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Gender differences in the influence of social isolation and loneliness on depressive symptoms in college students: a longitudinal study

Abstract

Purpose

There is evidence that social isolation or loneliness may be associated with mental health. However, it is unclear to what extent these two factors independently affect mental health and if these effects are gender dependent. This study examined the simultaneous associations of social isolation and loneliness with depressive symptoms in a longitudinal study of male and female college students.

Methods

Data were analyzed from 741 college students (28.3% males, 71.7% females; mean age = 18.47, SD = 0.87) at Tianjin Medical University. Multiple linear regression models were conducted to test the independent, relative, and synergistic effects of baseline isolation and loneliness on depressive symptoms at follow-up for female and male college students separately. All analyses were adjusted for baseline depressive symptoms and personality traits.

Results

Gender differences were found for the prospective associations of social isolation and loneliness with depressive symptoms. For females, either baseline isolation (β = 0.22, p < 0.001) or loneliness (β = 0.23, p < 0.001) can significantly predict the increased depressive symptoms. For males, baseline isolation (β = 0.25, p < 0.01) rather than loneliness (β = 0.14, p > 0.05) can significantly predict depressive symptoms.

Conclusions

This longitudinal study found a gender-dependent impact of isolation and loneliness on depressive symptoms. These results indicated that female and male college students may require different interventions to help them adjust to college life.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the National Social Science Foundation, China (Grant numbers 18BSH118, 15BSH065).

Author information

Correspondence to Bin Yu.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Liu, H., Zhang, M., Yang, Q. et al. Gender differences in the influence of social isolation and loneliness on depressive symptoms in college students: a longitudinal study. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 55, 251–257 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00127-019-01726-6

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Keywords

  • Social isolation
  • Loneliness
  • Depressive symptoms
  • Gender differences
  • Longitudinal study