Associations between loneliness and perceived social support and outcomes of mental health problems: a systematic review

BMC Psychiatry. 2018 May 29;18(1):156. doi: 10.1186/s12888-018-1736-5.


Background: The adverse effects of loneliness and of poor perceived social support on physical health and mortality are established, but no systematic synthesis is available of their relationship with the outcomes of mental health problems over time. In this systematic review, we aim to examine the evidence on whether loneliness and closely related concepts predict poor outcomes among adults with mental health problems.

Methods: We searched six databases and reference lists for longitudinal quantitative studies that examined the relationship between baseline measures of loneliness and poor perceived social support and outcomes at follow up. Thirty-four eligible papers were retrieved. Due to heterogeneity among included studies in clinical populations, predictor measures and outcomes, a narrative synthesis was conducted.

Results: We found substantial evidence from prospective studies that people with depression who perceive their social support as poorer have worse outcomes in terms of symptoms, recovery and social functioning. Loneliness has been investigated much less than perceived social support, but there is some evidence that greater loneliness predicts poorer depression outcome. There is also some preliminary evidence of associations between perceived social support and outcomes in schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and anxiety disorders.

Conclusions: Loneliness and quality of social support in depression are potential targets for development and testing of interventions, while for other conditions further evidence is needed regarding relationships with outcomes.

Keywords: Loneliness; Mental health problems; Outcomes; Perceived social support; Systematic review.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Depression* / physiopathology
  • Depression* / psychology
  • Humans
  • Loneliness / psychology*
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Prognosis
  • Recovery of Function
  • Social Participation / psychology
  • Social Perception
  • Social Support*