The former Soviet Union (FSU) is made up of a number of individual countries that vary by socioeconomic climate and culture. Although all of these countries were once part of the Soviet Union, they have each struggled to find their autonomy and independence politically, socially, and economically, since gaining their freedom several decades ago. However, until now, little attention has been focused on how these shifts have affected mental health and, specifically, loneliness, among the citizens of the FSU. Because loneliness is influenced by social and interpersonal factors, and because it can lead to negative psychological functioning and well-being, it is important to gauge the prevalence of loneliness in this area of the world.
To accomplish this, Andrew Stickley of the European Centre on Health of Societies in Transition at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine recently led a study measuring loneliness in nine of the FSU countries and looked at what negative coping strategies were impacted as a result of increased loneliness and how these behaviors varied by country.
After reviewing data from 18,000 participants, Stickley found that loneliness and its impact differed from country to country. In fact, aside from being divorced or widowed and having little social support, no other factors were common to loneliness across all of the countries. Additionally, differences were also evident in the coping strategies used by lonely participants. For example, in some countries, loneliness led to higher rates of alcohol consumption while in other areas, loneliness was linked only to increased smoking.
Another similarity that Stickley noticed was the outcome of loneliness. For most of the participants, loneliness led to increased psychological distress and lower levels of physical health, regardless of which country they were from. Stickley believes that employment rates, population transitions, economic conditions, and other regional conditions all contribute to the differences in loneliness rates and health outcomes.
Additionally, depression and anxiety, which were directly associated with loneliness, also varied by region and demographics for reasons not revealed in this study. Stickley said, “It is possible for example, that physical or mental ill health might be a precursor of loneliness rather than a result of it.” Stickley hopes that future work explores these nuances more deeply and looks at the potential reciprocal nature of the factors unveiled in this study.
Stickley, A., Koyanagi, A., Roberts, B., Richardson, E., Abbott, P., et al. (2013). Loneliness: Its correlates and association with health behaviours and outcomes in nine countries of the former soviet union. PLoS ONE 8(7): e67978. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0067978
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