Interpersonal Stress and Poor Health: The Mediating Role of Loneliness

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Mette M. Aanesa, Maurice B. Mittelmarka, and Jørn Hetlanda

Research Centre for Health Promotion, Faculty of Psychology, University of Bergen, Norway

online 14 April 2010.

This paper investigated whether the lack of social connectedness, as measured by the subjective feeling of loneliness, mediates the well-known relationship between interpersonal stress and psychological distress. Furthermore, a relationship between interpersonal stress and somatic symptoms was hypothesized. The study sample included 3,268 women and 3,220 men in Western Norway. The main findings were that interpersonal stress was significantly related to psychological distress as well as to somatic symptoms, both directly and indirectly via paths mediated by loneliness. The size of the indirect effects varied, suggesting that the importance of loneliness as a possible mediator differs for depressive symptoms, anxiety symptoms, and somatic symptoms. In the case of depressive symptoms, more than 75% of the total effect was mediated through loneliness, while in the case of somatic symptoms just over 40% of the total effect was mediated through loneliness. This study supports the hypotheses that social connectedness mediates a relationship between interpersonal stress and psychological distress. The study also provides the first link between interpersonal stress, as measured by the Bergen Social Relationships Scale, and somatic symptoms, extending earlier research on the relationship between interpersonal stress and psychological distress.

Author Keywords: interpersonal stress; loneliness; mental health; somatic symptoms

The data collection was conducted as part of HUSK (the Hordaland Health Study 1997–1999) in collaboration with the Norwegian National Health Screening Service. This research was supported by grants from the Norwegian “Helse og Rehabilitering”.

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