Living alone can be a freeing and positive experience for some. However, a new study in PLOS ONE shows mental health issues are more common among people who live alone.
Researchers used data from 20,500 individuals between ages 16 and 64 living in England who all took the National Psychiatric Morbidity Surveys in 1993, 2000, or 2007. They were surveyed about their neurotic symptoms during the previous week to determine their likelihood of having a common mental disorder, such as depression, generalized anxiety disorder, or social anxiety. Across all three years, they found people who live alone were more likely to have some kind of mental illness, regardless of age or gender.
The main reason? Loneliness. The data showed loneliness explained 84 percent of the connection between living alone and common mental disorders. In the paper, the researchers explain loneliness can often lead to compulsively focusing on one’s own negative thoughts, social anxieties, phobias, physical symptoms like pain or fatigue, or addiction—all of which can lead to developing mental disorders as well.
That being said, living alone itself is not a surefire recipe for loneliness. Being alone does not equal loneliness, and many people who live on their own are, in fact, thriving and love it. Loneliness only arises when we lose connection with others and with ourselves, regardless of our living situation. Though as the study shows, that disconnection can be exasperated when we live by ourselves.
The key to avoiding loneliness is a healthy self-love practice, which ideally should take the form of mindfulness. Indeed, a 2019 study showed practicing mindfulness actually reduces loneliness in individuals and increases their social interactions. Loving yourself means getting fully present in your body with your feelings. It means turning toward them with compassion rather than avoiding them with self-abandoning behavior. It means wanting responsibility for learning what they are telling you about how you are treating yourself and for lovingly managing the painful feelings of life—the loneliness, heartbreak, grief, and helplessness that we all experience at times.
So if you currently live alone, don’t panic that there’s something automatically wrong with your mental health because of it. This study is simply a good reminder that, whether you love living on your own or you’re feeling isolated because of it, always remember to prioritize feeling connected both with yourself and others.