Health And Family

Living alone is linked to mental disorders

WELL-BEING - Mylene Mendoza-Dayrit - The Philippine Star
Living alone is linked to mental disorders

Mental disorders affect people from all demographics and age groups, but have one common factor — loneliness.

Unlike our western counterparts, Filipinos live with their parents until marriage. Apart from being economical, this also contributes to maintaining close family ties. It helps preserve our deep-rooted value of putting the family first.

Living solo has always been the norm in developed countries like the US and United Kingdom, but is rapidly rising here in Asia as well.

In Northern European countries, nearly half of the adult population live by themselves. In comparison, in most Asian countries only two- to three-percent of the population live alone. Exceptions are China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan where the rate of single-person households nearly matches that of Europe.

In previous years, studies have shown a link between living alone and depression. However, these were limited to the aging population. An updated study shows that there is a link between living alone and common mental disorders, including mood disorders, anxiety and substance abuse. 

This raises alarm as the Philippines is a country which is slowly shifting towards the global trend of single-person households. While the tradition of living with your core family is still alive, this is expected to steadily change given the adaptation and cultivation of global ideas and growth. 

In a research published in the journal PLOS ONE, scientists looked for links between living alone and common mental disorders. They also investigated which factors seemed to influence the relationship.

Scientists from the University of Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines in France surveyed over 20,000 adults, ages 16-74 living in England. The variables of height and weight, level of education, employment status, alcohol and drug use, social support and feelings of loneliness were all examined. 

The participants also completed clinical interview questionnaires that assessed whether they had experienced neurotic symptoms within the week.

The researchers found that the number of people living alone has steadily grown. Their analysis also showed a significant association between living alone and having a common mental disorder. 

Mental disorders affect people from all demographics and age groups, but have one common factor — loneliness.

This comes as no surprise. It’s backed up by statistics gathered over many years. In 1993, 19.9 percent of adults living alone experienced common mental disorders, compared to the 13.6 percent of adults who did not live alone. In 2000, 23.2 percent of adults living alone showed symptoms of mental disorders versus 15.5 percent who didn’t live alone. In 2007, 24.7 percent of those living alone showed symptoms compared to just 15.4 percent who did not live alone.

Understanding the risk factors associated with common mental disorders can help benefit society at large. Not everyone who lives alone is lonely. However, interventions are possible for those who are. 

Loneliness is an invisible affliction that can even affect someone who is surrounded by people all the time. Given that there is a link between loneliness and anxiety, mood disorder and substance abuse, how can we help those in need? 

Do something small for your friend who is feeling lonely. Reach out to him/her, but don’t make him/her feel you’re doing it out of pity. The last thing your friend needs is to feel like a charity case. 

Listen and show interest in what your friend has to say. Do something you both love together. Setting and attaining small goals is satisfying and is a great cure for loneliness. 

Be optimistic and help your friend replace his/her negative thoughts with happier ones. Be part of the support structure that he/she needs and you will bring happiness to someone’s life. 

As Filipinos join the rest of the world in the shift towards living alone, we need to be aware of the repercussions of this trend. Learning to identify the signs of loneliness and common mental disorders is a solid first step in helping maintain sound mental health. The next step is to make sure that assistance is available for all those who need it.

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