It’s said that we are social animals and now there is scientific proof. BMC Public Health, an open access, peer-reviewed journal, has an article this week from Dr Laura Pulkki-Raback, who led a research at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health. Their work shows that people living alone are more likely to use antidepressant medication.

Pulkki-Raback and her associates used data from the Health 2000 Study, giving her data on more than 3500 men and women. It appears there is a real risk of becoming depressed when living alone. It’s an important talking point, because the number of single person households is on the rise.

Pulkki-Raback says that :

“This kind of study usually underestimates risk because the people who are at the most risk tend to be the people who are least likely to complete the follow up. We were also not able to judge how common untreated depression was.”

The participants in the study also provided other information about their lifestyles including: social support, work climate, education, income, employment status and housing conditions, in addition to details on smoking habits, alcohol use and activity levels, but what researchers haven’t made clear is the amount of “self medication” that might be going on where people live alone. If they smoke or drink more or use OTC or illicit drugs to try to cheer themselves up. This would obviously drive the figures even further against living alone.

The conclusion is that living alone might leave a person feeling isolated and slipping into a norm of not socializing and lacking trust of others, perhaps even becoming socially more awkward. These can be markers for mental health problems. Living with others can provide support, temper bad moods and sad days, and help people of working age to be more balanced in their approach to life.

In all, Pulkki-Raback found that during the 2000 to 20008 follow up period, people living alone bought 80% more antidepressants than those living with others. It seems that having an outlet and some social connections around on a daily basis can be important, and while perhaps living alone is a marker for depression, it’s something a person living alone can look out for, and possible try to get out and about a little more. It’s also useful advice for health care professionals when assessing patients for their mental state.

Written by Rupert Shepherd