Method. We conducted a web-based cross-sectional survey. Out of 1532 participants (72.5% males, 27.5% females), across 91 countries, anonymously attended our study, and their ages ranged from 17 to 61 (M = 28.07, SD = 5.2). We developed the difficulties scale to measure how respondents experienced challenges in their life during the pandemic, the social disconnectedness scale to assess their perceived levels of social participation, and the social isolation scale to measure their perceptions of isolation and loneliness. We also adapted the CES-D scale to measure levels of depression. The Cronbach's alpha of all scales was above .80. We tested a moderated mediation model through path analysis, coupled with performing the bootstrapping method to test the mediating effects of social isolation.
Results. We found that social disconnectedness and difficulties exerted a significant positive influence on perceived social isolation and depression. Results also revealed that perceived social isolation partially mediated the relationship between social connectedness and depression, indirect effect = .20, Confidence Interval = .15 to .25, as well as partially mediated the relationship between difficulties and depression, indirect effect = .18, Confidence Interval = .12 to .24. The results indicated the interaction effect between social connectedness and difficulties was not significant for perceived social isolation (β=.03, p=.737). Multigroup analyses revealed no difference in paths between gender groups, χ2 (df=3)=6.116, p =.106, and among SES groups, χ2 (df=6)=7.194, p =.303.
Conclusions and Implications. Our study fills the research gaps by analyzing mechanisms of association between social disconnectedness and depression. Social disconnectedness is found to link with depression, but the effect size is tiny. Perceived social isolation plays a critical role in mediating the effect on depression, which supports statements that the absence of social connection would not preclude people from experiencing depression (Hawkley & Cacioppo, 2010). Our study produces clinical implications for developing interventions programs that teach people to utilize developmentally appropriate methods for promoting social and emotional connections. To further understand the moderated mediation mechanism thoroughly, future research should investigate the role of moderators, such as attachment-based interaction and online social participation.