Depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide, with middle-aged and older adults disproportionately affected.
In a study from Colorado State University, scientists found social isolation can cause depression in middle-aged and older adults.
They used a machine learning approach to analyze data from a large, population-representative sample of middle-aged and older European adults.
Out of 56 variables examined, the team found that, for both men and women, social isolation was the primary risk factor for depression, followed by general poor health and mobility difficulties.
The team also looked at 30 variables related to participants’ social networks and family configurations, such as frequency of contact, number of friends, and interpersonal transactions related to physical care and financial support.
For men, a fourth key risk factor was difficulty in instrumental activities of daily life, such as managing finances, taking medications, and making telephone calls.
For women, a fourth key risk factor was a family burden. Women who strongly agreed that “family responsibilities get in the way of my being able to do the things I want to do” were at elevated risk for depression.
However, these gender-specific factors accounted for only a small proportion of differences in depression risk.
The team says they wanted to target a wide variety of risk and protective factors for depression.
It would be especially important to look at different dimensions of social and relational support given that self-reported social isolation may be more closely linked to some factors than others.
For more information about mental health, please see recent studies that ultra-processed foods may make you feel depressed, and these antioxidants could help reduce the risk of dementia.
The study was conducted by Stephen Aichele et al and published in The Lancet Regional Health—Europe.
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