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  • Jun 04 / 2021
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Current Research, Dr Emily Long

A place-based and relational perspective on loneliness and social isolation

Dr Emily Long, MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit

Loneliness and social isolation are pressing concerns for population wellbeing within the UK, with their relevance particularly acknowledged since the onset of Covid-19. Loneliness is defined as the subjective emotional experience of an absence of desired social relationships, while social isolation refers to the objective quantity of social relationships and frequency of contact. Both loneliness and isolation have known associations with physical health, use of health care services, and confer an early mortality risk comparable to that from obesity or smoking. 

But what causes someone to be lonely or socially isolated? And are the risk factors different dependent on where someone lives? Rural areas, for example, face specific challenges related to loneliness and social isolation, including limited public transportation, digital access and exclusion, and practical constraints on facilitating relationships between people who live more remotely.  

Based within a social ecological framework, loneliness and social isolation are the product of multiple, interdependent domains of influence (e.g., individual, interpersonal, community, societal), wherein factors within different spheres mutually influence each other. Aspects of rural life that may have particular implications for loneliness and isolation are evaluated alongside a complex set of social ecological factors. In this way, differences in factors that drive loneliness or social isolation can be compared across rural and urban settings, while recognising that individual circumstances may mitigate or exacerbate place-based differences.  

Moreover, social network characteristics are known to relate to loneliness and isolation. Grounded in sociology and social network theory, social network analysis (SNA) captures the relational ties (known as ‘alters’) of an individual (known as an ‘ego’), including the ties between alters (i.e., network density), relational characteristics (e.g., supportiveness), and attributes (e.g., age) of those who comprise the social network. By incorporating these characteristics into statistical models, SNA can identify specific dimensions of relationships that relate to loneliness or isolation.  

Despite this potential, social network data have not been collected in large-scale surveys in the UK, limiting understanding of the dynamics between social networks and loneliness to generalizations from the US. As such, the extent to which the social networks of those experiencing loneliness differ from non-lonely individuals is unknown. Similarly, although rural communities face a unique social environment, it is unclear whether this translates to differences in social networks, and how this may relate to loneliness or isolation. 

Efforts to reduce loneliness and social isolation that fail to account for the impact of place, and the interconnections between place-based influences and personal circumstances, including social networks, risk ignoring critical avenues for prevention. Recent policy initiatives acknowledge this and urge for a place-based investigation of loneliness and isolation, explicitly highlighting the need for research in rural areas, including an assessment of differing risk factors compared to urban locations.  

In response, we are currently collecting data on social relationships and wellbeing among Scottish adults living in either Glasgow or the rural Highlands. This data will allow us to investigate place-based differences in loneliness and social isolation across the life span, examine links with mental health, and elucidate the patterns through which social connections impact loneliness. Stay tuned for our results. 

See further details on our study: http://bit.ly/connectionsstudy 

See the following references for further research on these topics. 

1. Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (2018). 2.Valtorta, N. Heart (2016). 3.Valtorta, N. American Journal of Public Health (2018). 4. Holt-Lunstad, J. Perspectives of Psychological Science (2015). 5. Henning-Smith, Policy Brief (2018). 6. Santini, Z. Lancet Public Health (2020). 7. Bhavsar, V. PloS one (2019). 8. Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (2019). 9. Scottish Government (2020). 10. Public Health England (2017). 11. Victor, C. BMC Public Health (2020). 

  • Dec 18 / 2020
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Alexandra Rose, Current Research, Uncategorized

RESEARCHER SHOWCASE: Alexandra Rose and The assessment of mood after severe brain injury

Alexandra Rose (CPsychol) is a Principal Clinical Psychologist based in a London hospital, working with patients with brain injury. Her research is focused on understanding the assessment of mood, depression and distress after severe brain injury. She is supervised by Professor Jonathan Evans and Dr Breda Cullen. Alex is in the 2nd year of pursuing her PhD in Psychological Medicine. She is studying remotely whilst continuing her clinical work and is being assisted financially by a Francis Newman Foundation grant.  The following is part of her project exploring the assessment of mood after severe brain injury.

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  • Dec 17 / 2020
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Current Research, Warut Aunjitsakul

RESEARCHER SHOWCASE: Warut Aunjitsakul and maintenance mechanisms of social anxiety disorder in people with psychosis

Warut Aunjitsakul is a psychiatrist and clinical instructor from Prince of Songkla University, Thailand and very keen to develop theoretical understanding and improve psychological intervention in people with psychosis. He is now pursuing his PhD in Psychological Medicine.  

The following is part of Warut’s PhD project aiming to understand the maintenance mechanisms of social anxiety disorder in people with psychosis. 

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  • Dec 14 / 2020
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Current Research, Meigan Thomson

RESEARCHER SHOWCASE: Meigan Thomson and Barriers and Facilitators of Weight Loss in participants of a Behavioural Weight Loss Programmes.

Meigan is a PhD student based in the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences unit and is supervised by Professor Sharon Simpson, Dr Anne Martin, Dr Emily Long and Dr Jennifer Logue. Meigan’s PhD topic is Understanding the Barriers & Facilitators of Weight Loss in adults participating in Behavioural Weight Loss Programmes.  

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  • Mar 25 / 2019
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Alessio Albanese, Current Research

Researcher showcase: Alessio Albanese and the impact of post-migration life difficulties on mental health

I am in my first year of completing a PhD looking into the impact of post-migration life difficulties on mental health and somatic symptoms. I would like to take this opportunity to present my current work which focuses on the mental health and somatic symptoms of asylum seekers and refugees in the context of post-migration life difficulties. In addition to presenting my research work as it is developing, I would also like to briefly talk about my personal background and how this has influenced my personal and academic development.

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  • Mar 13 / 2019
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Current Research, Lauren Gatting

Promoting some of our ECR’s work

On Tuesday 26th February, Seven Early Career researchers working within UoG’s Institute of Health and Wellbeing presented their work, during the institute’s annual research away day. Following the format of the three minute thesis competitions held in universities worldwide, each presentation had to be under 3 minutes long and use only one power point slide (no animations allowed). During the away day, the presentations were judged by a panel for winners of 1st, 2nd and 3rd place. All the presentations were excellent.

I drew up a brief summary of each person’s work, while they were presenting, which I now present to you:

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