Study: Loneliness and Mental Health – Causation or Correlation?

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Loneliness and mental health are linked, as this man ponders by the sea.

Causation or correlation? This is a debate that arises in countless circumstances. In many cases it’s difficult if not almost impossible to prove one over the other. The difference is important, however. With causation, something can usually be done about the result. One of these circumstances relates to loneliness and mental health. It seems quite logical for someone who is lonely to suffer from mental health challenges. However is it the loneliness that causes mental illness, or is it the opposite? It could also be neither, and there is merely a correlation.

We may never definitively know the answer to that question in every situation. What’s encouraging, though, is that people are starting to dig deeper into research that explores the link between loneliness and mental health. The more we study something, the more we learn. Perhaps one day we will be able to identify situations where people are at risk for mental illness because of other outward manifestations.

For now, researchers published a study recently that looked at the potential link between loneliness and mental health and how that all works. We’re going to dig into the details of that study below. If you are feeling lonely to the point where you wonder if your mental health is suffering, you should always feel free to contact our team of professionals at SoCal Empowered. We are standing by and ready to provide a free assessment of your situation so that you can decide how to best move forward.

About the Loneliness and Mental Health Study

The researchers explored the link between loneliness and mental health by way of data available from the Norwegian medical system. They focused on 2,602 participants over a period of 23 years. The first track spanned from 1992 to 2006 and then continued on a different track from 2007 until 2015. The people in the study were teens in 1992, so the study followed them into adulthood.

The teens who were experiencing heightened levels of loneliness at the beginning of the study showed a higher tendency towards taking medications such as antipsychotics, mood stabilizers and antidepressants into adulthood. Specifically, 12 percent of the subjects received a prescription for one type of medication. Another 7 percent obtained prescriptions for two or more. Overall, that represented approximately 500 people, or nearly 20 percent of the participants in the beginning of the study.

Based on prescription data from the Norwegian health system, these medications were likely prescribed for conditions that included psychotic disorders, bipolar disorders and major depression. Therefore, the loneliest people at the beginning of the study were much more likely to encounter mental illness as they moved from adolescence into adulthood.

Those who want to review a full summary of the study can find it here.

Are All Lonely Teens Suffering?

The way things are worded matters, and what’s important to note here – and the researchers specifically commented on this – is that there is a big difference between being lonely and being alone. Loneliness means that someone is alone much more than they want to be for reasons that often seem out of their control. Some people simply enjoy or even prefer being alone for long periods of time. These were not the people who became the focus of this loneliness and mental health study.

As such, if we’re going to use this information to help identify people who are at risk for mental illness in the future, we should focus on younger people who are lonely, and not those who simply prefer to be alone. Those who are lonely tend to have lower levels of self-esteem and confidence, and over time it’s not uncommon for them to simply start to allow life to drift past them. These internal struggles can lead to mental illness.

What Are Psychotic Disorders?

As we stated above, the people in this study who were lonely faced a higher probability of being diagnosed with psychotic disorders, bipolar disorders and major depression as they became adults. But what are psychotic disorders? What does it mean when someone suffers in this regard?

According to the Cleveland Clinic, psychotic disorders are those that occur when a person struggles with telling the difference between what’s real and what is not. One type of psychotic disorder is generally known as the schizophrenia spectrum. There are several different types of schizophrenia, and we have a breakdown of this troubling and difficult condition here.

While the schizophrenia spectrum envelops most of what people would consider psychotic disorders, psychosis, or the inability to discern between reality and fantasy, can also arise with what are otherwise considered mood disorders. Examples of those mood disorders include bipolar disorder, a breakdown of which you’ll find here, and major depression, which you can find a breakdown of at SoCal Empowered.

The good news is that these conditions can be treated successfully with therapy and the proper medications.

Back to the Original Question on Loneliness and Mental Health

So, back to the connection between loneliness and mental health: Which causes which, if either? The answer, based on this study and other data, continues to elude us on a concrete level. What we do know now is that there is a definite correlation between the two. What we have yet to establish is causation one way or the other. Someone who is lonely does face a higher risk of mental illness. Conversely, mental illness can result in loneliness for obvious reasons.

How SoCal Empowered Can Help

If you or a loved one is struggling with any of the disorders mentioned here or others, SoCal Empowered is a place that can help. All you need to do is contact us to tell us about your situation. We’ll provide you with experienced feedback and if intervention is warranted, we’ll help you find the right place to get what you need.

If that involves a stay with us, we will deal with your insurance company directly before you commit to anything. If another resource is the best fit, we’ll help connect you to it. It all starts with a conversation, so contact us today.

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