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Living alone increases risk of depression: study

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A new study links living alone with an increased risk of depression, amid a growing trend of solitary living in much of the world.

In a seven-year study of about 3,500 working-aged people in Finland, led by Laura Pulkki-Raback, a psychological researcher at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, people living alone were 80 per cent more likely than others to have bought antidepressant drugs during the study period.

If anything, these findings are only telling part of the story, the lead researcher said.

"This kind of study usually underestimates risk because the people who are at the most risk tend to be the people who are least likely to complete the followup (assessment in the study)," Pulkki-Raback said in a statement. "We also were not able to judge how common untreated depression was."

A financial disadvantage seemed to be a factor linking solitary living to a greater risk of depression among women, who were more likely to lack education and earn low incomes if living on their own. Men living by themselves were found to lack social supports and be more prone to alcohol abuse.

Researchers involved in the study said feelings of alienation and a lack of trust in other people might also be factors.

The paper, published in the journal BMC Public Health, said living alone is more common now than at any other time in history. It said one-third of people in both the United States and the United Kingdom are the sole occupants of their dwellings, a proportion that has doubled in last 30 years.

Data from Statistics Canada show that, in this country, 26.8 per cent of households were occupied by just one person in 2006, up from six per cent in 1941.

Dorothy Ratusny, a Toronto-based psychotherapist, said she's found people living alone to be more prone to depression, and noted that many end up this way because of a marital breakup.

"When I work with clients who are going through that process of separating and custody and all that, there's a huge change in their life experience from having a family setting with supports and children and love to now having to navigate their life on their own," she said.

Ratusny added that many of these people have never really experienced life by themselves, having always lived with either parents, roommates or romantic partners. For her clients experiencing distress under such circumstances, she encourages them to become involved in things such as hobbies or sports, and "experience themselves as an individual."

Dr. Scott Patten said the most recent Statistics Canada survey in 2002 estimates about 12 per cent of Canadians had experienced clinical depression, the higher-risk group being individuals who were divorced, separated or widowed.

The married group had a lower prevalence of depression while the never-married or single group had mid-level prevalence, said Patten, a psychiatrist who teaches at the University of Calgary.

"It's been known forever that people who have undergone major life events such as losses or threatening life events are at higher risk of depression," he said.

Patten cautioned that the new findings are "preliminary" and suggested it may be difficult to attribute a risk of depression to living alone when the two groups -- single and married individuals -- are "too different."

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 24, 2012 A31

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