You Won't Just Die Alone — You'll Be Totally Miserable, Too

Illustration for article titled You Won't Just Die Alone — You'll Be Totally Miserable, Too

Hey there. How's your day going so far? Have you spent much time thinking about how you're going to die alone in your apartment, face down in a bowl of the soggy cereal you're eating for dinner because why would you ever cook a proper meal when it's just you? Well, allow science to make your day even better by telling you that if you live alone, you are virtually guaranteed to be incredibly depressed. But don't worry, it's…oh, fuck it. There's no way to sugarcoat it. It's all so pointless.


New research has found that people living alone had an almost 80 percent higher risk for depression—as measured by taking antidepressants—than people who lived in any kind of "social or family group." So maybe now is a good time to move to that Kibbutz you've been considering? Or just take in a boarder? Should you choose to take the exceedingly chance-y path of remaining on your own (what are you, a sociopath?), the good news is you'll have company. Apparently the number of people living alone in the U.S. and the U.K. has doubled in the 30 years. Let the thought that someone else is also alone doing weird shit on the other side of the apartment wall come as some comfort to you while you watch TV every night and cry yourself to sleep—because we all know that people who live alone never go out, except to hunt squirrel meat to tide them through the winters, of course.

So how did the researchers figure out that all the single ladies (and gents) are so sad? Well, they studied 3,500 men and women of working age in Finland for seven years. They "compared their living arrangements with psychosocial, sociodemographic, and health risk factors, including smoking, heavy drinking and low physical activity, to antidepressant use." And then they found that people who were alone were a lot more likely to be depressed. Oh, wait, it gets even more dreadful when you hear this from Dr. Laura Pulkki-Råback, who did the research at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health:

This kind of study usually underestimates risk because the people who are at the most risk tend to be the people who are least likely to complete the follow up. We also were not able to judge how common untreated depression was.

So, when you factor in that concept, it's conceivable that 100 percent of people living alone are at risk for depression. Ahhhh! Everybody quick, move into the locker room in the gym or start randomly "adopting" untended children you see at the mall; do whatever you can so that you're not alone. But seriously, what the hell? Is being by yourself really that depressing in and of itself? There are a lot of people who seem to really rather like being alone. And having to share your space with someone can lead to all sorts of unpleasant situations too. But apparently, it's better to be annoyed at times by your cohabitant (Seriously, how hard is it to pick up your wet towel off the floor?) than to be without one at all. (Hello? Hello? What's making that noise? Is someone there?)

There is one upside to this research: depression plagues both men and women living alone equally. Take that, stereotype of crazy cat ladies who get slowly buried under piles of their own misery, 'cause there are crazy cat men who are getting slowly buried under piles of their own misery, too! Everybody is messed up, just for different reasons. Researchers found the women's depression was "attributable to sociodemographic factors, such as lack of education and low income." Huh, what could possibly be depressing about that? For men, it was "poor job climate, lack of support at the work place or in their private lives, and heavy drinking." Again, why the long face, dudes?


Seriously, these people sound like they have difficult lives that are making them depressed. Is being brought down by a having to work a horrible job or drinking heavily made that much more manageable by having someone else living in the house with you? Or is it that people who have difficulty dealing with life and its stressors to begin with end up not having partners (since that brings its own stressors). In the end, even after the study accounted for the factors that made the men and women more prone to depression, over half of the increased risk of depression was still unexplained. The researchers posit that it might stem from "feelings of alienation from society, lack of trust, or difficulties arising from critical life events," which I guess could lead you to be the kind of person who is prone to depression and chooses to live alone in the first place.

Obviously, more research needs to be done before we decide to live in some sort of commune rather than face life alone. And, clearly, while it's good to raise awareness that this population might benefit from additional mental health screening or treatment, let's not assume we're all going to end up mentally ill if we decide to fly solo. In fact, until we know more, let's not jump to any scientific conclusions at all. Let's handle this the old-fashioned away: by assuming there is some sort of depression spirit or monster that sleeps in the woods but comes out to roam the streets at night, and when it sees someone alone, it goes in their house to keep them company, but it doesn't realize it's own power and ends up passing depression onto that person. Yes, that is the answer we're going to go with. So, you're fine to keep living alone. Just close your shades at night and don't let anyone that looks like a zombie in to "fix your radiator."


Home Alone: Depression Highest for Those Living Alone [ScienceDaily]

Image via Everett Collection/Shutterstock.


Violet Baudelaire

Oh good old fashioned correlative studies! Here's the immediate problems I see with all of this

1) Maybe clinically depressed people are more likely to live alone because they are depressed (which makes it very difficult to interact with other people, have the motivation to join the dating world, look for roommates, etc) rather than being depressed because they are alone

2) Maybe people who live alone are depressed because - shocker - society tells them they ought to be depressed. There is a very prevalent idea culturally here that no one lives a fulfilled life without a romantic partner, and every movie I've ever seen shows me that even if you're a sassy young woman living in NYC you're not really anyone until you have someone!

3) The correct correlation here is that people living alone are more likely to be taking anti-depressant medication, not that they're more depressed. Conversely, many people who are married may ignore or be in denial about their depression symptoms, because they feel like they *should* be happy, or because they feel like they should not be focused on themselves

4) This might be reaching a bit, but there is still a lot of stigma against psychology and seeking help or taking medication. There is also a lot of stigma against living alone. People who have the courage to somewhat flaunt cultural expectations and live alone may be less likely to have a stigma against receiving psychiatric help.