Loneliness and depression in the elderly: the role of social network

Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2017 Apr;52(4):381-390. doi: 10.1007/s00127-017-1339-3. Epub 2017 Feb 2.


Purpose: Loneliness and depression are associated, in particular in older adults. Less is known about the role of social networks in this relationship. The present study analyzes the influence of social networks in the relationship between loneliness and depression in the older adult population in Spain.

Methods: A population-representative sample of 3535 adults aged 50 years and over from Spain was analyzed. Loneliness was assessed by means of the three-item UCLA Loneliness Scale. Social network characteristics were measured using the Berkman-Syme Social Network Index. Major depression in the previous 12 months was assessed with the Composite International Diagnostic Interview (CIDI). Logistic regression models were used to analyze the survey data.

Results: Feelings of loneliness were more prevalent in women, those who were younger (50-65), single, separated, divorced or widowed, living in a rural setting, with a lower frequency of social interactions and smaller social network, and with major depression. Among people feeling lonely, those with depression were more frequently married and had a small social network. Among those not feeling lonely, depression was associated with being previously married. In depressed people, feelings of loneliness were associated with having a small social network; while among those without depression, feelings of loneliness were associated with being married.

Conclusion: The type and size of social networks have a role in the relationship between loneliness and depression. Increasing social interaction may be more beneficial than strategies based on improving maladaptive social cognition in loneliness to reduce the prevalence of depression among Spanish older adults.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Depression
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Loneliness / psychology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Social Support*
  • Spain