Study investigates the association of subjective loneliness with health and social network across three European countries
Loneliness is a complex emotion that is associated with the feelings of isolation and sadness, and can be triggered by living alone, having few friends, or not having people to trust. It has negative effects on health, and lonely individuals are more likely to suffer from poor sleep, cardiovascular complications, alcoholism, dementia, and suicidal thoughts. A study conducted by a research group in Spain set to examine the impact of the subjective perception of loneliness and components of social networks with regard to one’s health.
Over 10,000 adults were interviewed in Finland, Poland, and Spain, and loneliness was assessed using the UCLA Loneliness scale. Interviewer questions regarding a person’s social network focused on the number of members in the network, frequency of contact, and closeness of relationships with members. Health status was self-reported and measured using a multi-domain health state measurement that takes into account the absence of disease and injury, the ability to carry out physical and mental actions, and tasks.
Results from all three countries supported that loneliness was more strongly correlated with health over any component of social network. This relationship between loneliness and health was strongest in Finland compared to Poland and Spain, and more prevalent in the younger population than the older population. A significant relationship between social network and loneliness was associated only with the frequency of contact with network members. The authors note that their study is limited by causality and time, as the study was carried out at a single point in time and does not factor in if there was a sequence of events that affected loneliness or health states.
Rico-Uribe LA, Caballero FF, Olaya B, Tobiasz-Adamczyk B, Koskinen S, Leonardi M, et al. Loneliness, Social Networks, and Health: A Cross-Sectional Study in Three Countries. PLoS ONE 11(1): e0145264, 2016.
Written by Fiona Wong, PhD