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01.12.2017 | Research article | Ausgabe 1/2017 Open Access

BMC Psychiatry 1/2017

Loneliness in the general population: prevalence, determinants and relations to mental health

BMC Psychiatry > Ausgabe 1/2017
Manfred E. Beutel, Eva M. Klein, Elmar Brähler, Iris Reiner, Claus Jünger, Matthias Michal, Jörg Wiltink, Philipp S. Wild, Thomas Münzel, Karl J. Lackner, Ana N. Tibubos



While loneliness has been regarded as a risk to mental and physical health, there is a lack of current community data covering a broad age range. This study used a large and representative German adult sample to investigate loneliness.


Baseline data of the Gutenberg Health Study (GHS) collected between April 2007 and April 2012 (N = 15,010; 35–74 years), were analyzed. Recruitment for the community-based, prospective, observational cohort study was performed in equal strata for gender, residence and age decades. Measures were provided by self-report and interview. Loneliness was used as a predictor for distress (depression, generalized anxiety, and suicidal ideation) in logistic regression analyses adjusting for sociodemographic variables and mental distress.


A total of 10.5% of participants reported some degree of loneliness (4.9% slight, 3.9% moderate and 1.7% severely distressed by loneliness). Loneliness declined across age groups. Loneliness was stronger in women, in participants without a partner, and in those living alone and without children. Controlling for demographic variables and other sources of distress loneliness was associated with depression (OR = 1.91), generalized anxiety (OR = 1.21) and suicidal ideation (OR = 1.35). Lonely participants also smoked more and visited physicians more frequently.


The findings support the view that loneliness poses a significant health problem for a sizeable part of the population with increased risks in terms of distress (depression, anxiety), suicidal ideation, health behavior and health care utilization.
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