The number of people who live alone has grown steadily in recent years, thanks in part to our aging population, falling marriage rates, and declining fertility. And while living alone can have its perks, it’s also, unfortunately, linked with a greater risk of depression or anxiety.
This connection is present regardless of age and sex, says a new study in PLOS ONE from the University of Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines in France. In fact, living alone could more than double a person’s risk for common mental health disorders, and researchers found that loneliness was the main cause for 84% of the cases.
Researchers pulled data from 20,500 people aged 16-64 living in England who participated in the 1993, 2000, or 2007 National Psychiatric Morbidity Surveys. They found that people who lived with others were less likely to have mental health disorders, underscoring the need to tackle the loneliness problem among those who do.
Past research, according to the study authors, has suggested that loneliness may lead to things like depression and anxiety because people tend to ruminate more on the negative aspects of their situation. Being lonely may also trigger immune-system malfunctions that can increase mental health risks, among other factors.
How to Maintain Connection When You Live Alone
Living alone isn’t all bad. In fact, many people prefer the independence and having total control over their environment—no annoying roommates to deal with or fighting over who’s turn it is to do the dishes. But even the most solitude-loving among us can get lonely from time to time. These tips from Harvard Health can help you avoid that:
- Pick up a hobby that gets you out of the house regularly. Whether that’s a weekly art class at the local community college or a trip to your neighborhood library, getting out in the world and interacting with people on the reg can keep you from getting too lonely. For seniors, many community and senior centers offer activity programs that may interest you.
- Lend your time as a volunteer. Have a passion for helping underserved women? Maybe you’re an animal lover? Everyone has a cause they can get behind. Instead of staying cooped up on the weekend, consider volunteering your time at the local animal shelter, soup kitchen, or other charitable organization near you.
- Make time for exercise. A 30-minute walk five times a week can help keep you in better shape, physically and mentally. And you can even invite a friend along for company.
- Log on. You may have expected us to say that online connection is no substitute for in-person connection and in part, that’s true. But that doesn’t mean that your smartphone or computer can’t be a useful tool to help you stave off loneliness, whether you’re researching local activities or keeping in touch with friends and loved ones via social media.