Loneliness is closely associated with depression outcomes and suicidal ideation among military veterans in primary care

J Affect Disord. 2018 Apr 1;230:42-49. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2018.01.003. Epub 2018 Jan 17.


Background: Although the substantial influence of social relationships on health is well-known, studies that concurrently examine the influence of varying dimensions of social connectedness on major depression are more limited. This study's aim was to determine to what degree several facets of social connectedness (number of confidants, social support, interpersonal conflict, social norms, and loneliness) are correlated with depression-related outcomes.

Methods: Participants were primary care patients (n = 301) with probable major depression at a Veterans Health Administration hospital and its satellite clinics. Social connectedness was primarily measured using multi-item instruments from the NIH Toolbox of Adult Social Relationship Scales. Primary outcomes were clinical symptoms (depression and suicidal ideation) and secondary outcomes were self-reported health-related behaviors (medication adherence, patient activation, and help-seeking intentions).

Results: In multivariate models adjusting for potential confounders and other facets of connectedness, loneliness was associated with higher levels of depression and suicidal ideation, as well as lower patient activation and help-seeking intentions. Social support and social norms about depression treatment were each associated with higher patient activation and help-seeking intentions. Social connectedness was not associated with medication adherence.

Limitations: The limitations of this study are primarily related to its cross-sectional survey design and study population.

Conclusions: Multiple aspects of social connectedness are associated with depression outcomes among military veterans with depression. Loneliness may represent the most important component of connectedness, as it is associated with depression severity, suicidality, and health-related behaviors.

Keywords: Social connectedness; Social network; Social support; Social tie; Veterans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / psychology*
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Loneliness / psychology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Primary Health Care
  • Self Report
  • Social Support
  • Suicidal Ideation*
  • United States
  • Veterans / psychology*