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Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2016 Mar;51(3):339-48. doi: 10.1007/s00127-016-1178-7. Epub 2016 Feb 3.

Social isolation, loneliness and depression in young adulthood: a behavioural genetic analysis.

Author information

1
MRC Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King's College London, London, UK.
2
Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King's College London, London, UK.
3
National and Specialist Child Traumatic Stress and Anxiety Clinic, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK.
4
Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA.
5
Departments of Psychology and Neuroscience, Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA.
6
MRC Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King's College London, London, UK. louise.arseneault@kcl.ac.uk.

Abstract

PURPOSE:

To investigate the association between social isolation and loneliness, how they relate to depression, and whether these associations are explained by genetic influences.

METHODS:

We used data from the age-18 wave of the Environmental Risk Longitudinal Twin Study, a birth cohort of 1116 same-sex twin pairs born in England and Wales in 1994 and 1995. Participants reported on their levels of social isolation, loneliness and depressive symptoms. We conducted regression analyses to test the differential associations of isolation and loneliness with depression. Using the twin study design, we estimated the proportion of variance in each construct and their covariance that was accounted for by genetic and environmental factors.

RESULTS:

Social isolation and loneliness were moderately correlated (r = 0.39), reflecting the separateness of these constructs, and both were associated with depression. When entered simultaneously in a regression analysis, loneliness was more robustly associated with depression. We observed similar degrees of genetic influence on social isolation (40 %) and loneliness (38 %), and a smaller genetic influence on depressive symptoms (29 %), with the remaining variance accounted for by the non-shared environment. Genetic correlations of 0.65 between isolation and loneliness and 0.63 between loneliness and depression indicated a strong role of genetic influences in the co-occurrence of these phenotypes.

CONCLUSIONS:

Socially isolated young adults do not necessarily experience loneliness. However, those who are lonely are often depressed, partly because the same genes influence loneliness and depression. Interventions should not only aim at increasing social connections but also focus on subjective feelings of loneliness.

KEYWORDS:

Behavioural genetics; Depression; Loneliness; Social isolation; Young adulthood

PMID:
26843197
PMCID:
PMC4819590
DOI:
10.1007/s00127-016-1178-7
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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