Gender differences in the influence of social isolation and loneliness on depressive symptoms in college students: a longitudinal study

Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2020 Feb;55(2):251-257. doi: 10.1007/s00127-019-01726-6. Epub 2019 May 21.

Abstract

Purpose: There is evidence that social isolation or loneliness may be associated with mental health. However, it is unclear to what extent these two factors independently affect mental health and if these effects are gender dependent. This study examined the simultaneous associations of social isolation and loneliness with depressive symptoms in a longitudinal study of male and female college students.

Methods: Data were analyzed from 741 college students (28.3% males, 71.7% females; mean age = 18.47, SD = 0.87) at Tianjin Medical University. Multiple linear regression models were conducted to test the independent, relative, and synergistic effects of baseline isolation and loneliness on depressive symptoms at follow-up for female and male college students separately. All analyses were adjusted for baseline depressive symptoms and personality traits.

Results: Gender differences were found for the prospective associations of social isolation and loneliness with depressive symptoms. For females, either baseline isolation (β = 0.22, p < 0.001) or loneliness (β = 0.23, p < 0.001) can significantly predict the increased depressive symptoms. For males, baseline isolation (β = 0.25, p < 0.01) rather than loneliness (β = 0.14, p > 0.05) can significantly predict depressive symptoms.

Conclusions: This longitudinal study found a gender-dependent impact of isolation and loneliness on depressive symptoms. These results indicated that female and male college students may require different interventions to help them adjust to college life.

Keywords: Depressive symptoms; Gender differences; Loneliness; Longitudinal study; Social isolation.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Loneliness / psychology*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Prospective Studies
  • Sex Factors*
  • Social Isolation / psychology*
  • Students / psychology*
  • Universities
  • Young Adult