Loneliness in the general population: prevalence, determinants and relations to mental health

BMC Psychiatry. 2017 Mar 20;17(1):97. doi: 10.1186/s12888-017-1262-x.


Background: While loneliness has been regarded as a risk to mental and physical health, there is a lack of current community data covering a broad age range. This study used a large and representative German adult sample to investigate loneliness.

Methods: Baseline data of the Gutenberg Health Study (GHS) collected between April 2007 and April 2012 (N = 15,010; 35-74 years), were analyzed. Recruitment for the community-based, prospective, observational cohort study was performed in equal strata for gender, residence and age decades. Measures were provided by self-report and interview. Loneliness was used as a predictor for distress (depression, generalized anxiety, and suicidal ideation) in logistic regression analyses adjusting for sociodemographic variables and mental distress.

Results: A total of 10.5% of participants reported some degree of loneliness (4.9% slight, 3.9% moderate and 1.7% severely distressed by loneliness). Loneliness declined across age groups. Loneliness was stronger in women, in participants without a partner, and in those living alone and without children. Controlling for demographic variables and other sources of distress loneliness was associated with depression (OR = 1.91), generalized anxiety (OR = 1.21) and suicidal ideation (OR = 1.35). Lonely participants also smoked more and visited physicians more frequently.

Conclusions: The findings support the view that loneliness poses a significant health problem for a sizeable part of the population with increased risks in terms of distress (depression, anxiety), suicidal ideation, health behavior and health care utilization.

Keywords: Anxiety; Depression; Loneliness; Partnership; Prevalence; Suicidal ideation.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anxiety Disorders / diagnosis
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depressive Disorder / diagnosis
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology
  • Female
  • Germany
  • Humans
  • Loneliness / psychology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Population Surveillance
  • Risk Factors
  • Suicidal Ideation
  • Young Adult