A recent study led by The University of Western Australia and published in the Schizophrenia Research Journal has found that rates of loneliness are higher among people with a psychotic illness (such as schizophrenia, delusional disorder and depressive psychosis) than those who do not have the illness.
The research also found that feeling lonely can have a range of effects on mental and physical functioning.
The study examined data from the second Australian National Survey of Psychosis in 2010 and determined loneliness was considerably higher in people living with a psychotic disorder, ranging from around 75 per cent in people with delusional disorder to 94 per cent in those with depressive psychosis.
UWA Professor Johanna Badcock said previous studies examining the relationship between loneliness and mental health had largely focused on the relationship between loneliness and depression, but up until now detailed information on the rates of loneliness in psychosis was missing.
“The unpleasant feeling of loneliness is not about the amount of time one spends with other people or being alone, it is related more to the quality of our relationships,” Professor Badcock said.
“People can live alone and not feel lonely or they can be surrounded by friends but still feel lonely. Its influence is also far reaching—affecting both mental well-being and physical health.”
Current estimates suggest around 35 per cent of people in the community report feeling lonely, reflecting a fundamental need to belong.
Professor Badcock believes loneliness is often overlooked by mental health professionals diagnosing psychotic illness.
“Mental health service providers need to go beyond routine assessment of symptoms and ask patients with psychosis how they feel about their social interactions,” she said.
She also said the results highlighted the need to update training for future mental health professionals to encompass knowledge and skills for alleviating loneliness in people with severe mental disorder.
“Psychological based treatments that focus on changing negative thinking and interpretations of others’ behaviour seem to be more effective than simply providing opportunities for social interaction,” she said.
“However these have not yet been widely implemented to tackle loneliness in people with psychotic disorders.”
The above story was published by the Science Network Western Australia.