Depression is a serious mental health condition that affects millions of people worldwide.
It can be particularly common among middle-aged and older adults, and can cause significant disability and distress.
While there are many different factors that can contribute to depression, including genetics and life events, scientists from Colorado State University have recently discovered that social isolation can be a major risk factor for depression in these populations.
The team of researchers used a machine learning approach to analyze data from a large sample of middle-aged and older European adults.
They looked at 56 different variables, including factors such as social isolation, general health, and mobility difficulties, to identify the key risk factors for depression.
They also examined 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.
What they found was striking: for both men and women, social isolation was the primary risk factor for depression, followed by general poor health and mobility difficulties.
This underscores the importance of staying connected with friends and family, even as we age.
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, with those who strongly agreed that “family responsibilities get in the way of my being able to do the things I want to do” at elevated risk for depression.
However, the researchers note that these gender-specific factors accounted for only a small proportion of differences in depression risk, and that a wide variety of risk and protective factors must be considered.
In particular, they highlight the importance of different dimensions of social and relational support, which may be more closely linked to some factors than others.
This could include things like regular contact with loved ones, participation in social activities, and access to support services.
It is clear that depression is a complex and multifaceted condition, and that different factors may play a role in different people.
However, this study highlights the importance of social connections and support in preventing and treating depression, especially as we age.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, it is important to seek help from a mental health professional or support organization.
There are also many lifestyle changes and treatments that can help alleviate symptoms, including regular exercise, healthy eating, and cognitive-behavioral therapy.
By taking proactive steps to address depression, we can help to improve our mental health and well-being.
The study was conducted by Stephen Aichele et al and published in The Lancet Regional Health—Europe.
If you care about depression, please read studies that vegetarian diet may increase your depression risk, and Vitamin D could help reduce depression symptoms.
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