Published in BMC Psychiatry, results of a systematic review indicate that loneliness and quality of social support are predictive of depression outcome and as such are promising targets for intervention and treatment development.
Researchers conducted a systematic review of scientific literature and extracted longitudinal studies in which the relationship between baseline measures of loneliness and poor perceived social support were examined. Follow-up depression outcomes were examined using quantitative measures. A total of 34 eligible studies were extracted and included in a narrative synthesis on the effect of loneliness and social support on mental health.
Among the 13 studies that assessed depression severity as an outcome, 11 found that poorer perceived social support or greater loneliness at baseline were significant predictors of higher depressive symptoms severity at follow-up. One study examining loneliness specifically found that lonely respondents at baseline were less likely to achieve remission from their depressive disorder at follow-up compared with non-lonely respondents (odds ratio [OR], 0.25; 95% CI, 0.08-0.80). Similarly, poorer perceived social support at baseline was a significant predictor of poorer recovery after 1 year in one study (OR, 1.21; 95% CI, 1.09-1.35) and of longer time to remission in another (hazard ratio, 0.47; 95% CI, 0.31-0.71). Preliminary evidence from other reports suggested similar effects for patients with bipolar disorder and anxiety disorders. Few studies reported on schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorders, although the existing data indicated that greater social support may predict better subjective quality of life and social functioning.
Researchers noted that the heterogeneity among clinical studies limits the consistency and generalizability of results. Additionally, quality scores varied among eligible studies, with many subject to selection bias or failing to adjust for confounding factors. As such, further investigation is needed to elucidate the relationship of loneliness, social support, and mental health outcomes. However, preliminary generalizations point toward the potential therapeutic efficacy of targeting loneliness and social support for patients.
Wang J, Mann F, Lloyd-Evans B, Ma R, Johnson S. Associations between loneliness and perceived social support and outcomes of mental health problems: a systematic review. BMC Psychiatry. 2018;18:156.