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Perceived social isolation in a community sample: its prevalence and correlates with aspects of peoples’ lives

Abstract

Although there are many studies reporting perceived social isolation or loneliness and their correlates in specific groups, there are few modern prevalence studies. This study reports on the prevalence of perceived social isolation in an Australian community sample. Randomly sampled Australian adults (n = 3,015) were interviewed using a standard questionnaire. In addition to perceived social isolation assessed by the Friendship Scale, data were collected on socio-demographic variables and chronic health conditions. The findings suggest that while most participants were socially connected, 9% reported some social isolation and 7% were isolated or very isolated. Perceived social isolation varied by gender and age group, region of birth, relationship, labourforce, and income status. A key finding was that younger adults had higher probabilities of being classified as being socially isolated than did older participants. Depression was very strongly associated with perceived social isolation. Other health conditions or life experiences associated with it were hearing, incontinence and lifetime trauma exposure. The demographic characteristics and chronic health conditions associated with perceived social isolation are structural circumstances of peoples’ lives. Given there are poor long-term health outcomes, including early death and suicide, there are clear public health implications for those trapped by these life circumstances.

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Acknowledgements

Large complex studies are carried out by teams of researchers, and this study is no exception. I would particularly like to thank the Ms Elayne Crnkovic and Ms Natalie Scarlet from the Community Care Branch, Australian Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing; Ms Kerry Markoulli, Director, Special Needs Strategies Section, Australian Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing; A/Professor Anne Taylor from the Population Research & Outcome Studies Unit, Department of Health, South Australia; and Ms Jan Sansoni from the Australian Health Outcomes Collaboration, Centre for Health Services Development, University of Wollongong. The South Australian Health Omnibus Survey is a user-pays health survey, and I would to thank those collaborators who gave permission for their data to be used, in particular Professor Robert Goldney from the Department of Psychiatry at Adelaide University; Mr Will Hallahan, Executive Officer, Western Palliative Care Service, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital; Dr Roger Hunt, Director Western Palliative Care Service, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital; Ms Gillian Leach from Arthritis South Australia; Professor Alastair MacLennan from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Women’s and Children’s Hospital Adelaide; Dr Monika Nitschke from the Environmental Health Service, Department of Health South Australia; Dr Richard Osborne from the Centre for Rheumatic Disease at The University of Melbourne; Dr Pat Phillips from the Endocrine and Diabetes Service, West Adelaide Health Service; Professor Richard Ruffin from the Department of Medicine at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and North West Adelaide Health Service; Dr Gary Starr from Health Promotion SA, Department of Health, South Australia; Ms Laura Fisher from Ramsay Health Care (The Adelaide Clinic); Ms Rosemary Warmington, Chief Executive Officer, the Carers’ Association South Australia; and Ms Carmel Williams from the Integration Team Health Promotion Branch Department of Health South Australia. There are no competing interests for the author. This study was funded by a grant from the Community Care Branch, Australian Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing.

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Hawthorne, G. Perceived social isolation in a community sample: its prevalence and correlates with aspects of peoples’ lives. Soc Psychiat Epidemiol 43, 140–150 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00127-007-0279-8

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Key words

  • perceived social isolation
  • loneliness
  • social support
  • social isolation
  • prevalence
  • community