Loneliness and Mental Health in Children and Young People

Loneliness has been described as the unpleasant feeling resulting from a disparity between the interpersonal relationships one has and those that one wishes to have (Peplaw & Perlman, 1982). Individuals who feel lonely report not finding their lives enjoyable or worthwhile as those who feel more connected to others. Loneliness has a negative impact on mental health among young people and it is particularly prevalent among adolescents, with approximately 1 in 10 children and adolescents aged 10-15 in the UK reporting feeling left out and lonely. In this age group, loneliness and mental health difficulties therefore comprise a public health concern.


Loneliness in children & adolescents aged 10-15

Dr. Emily Long, and colleagues from the University of Glasgow, used data from the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children study to explore loneliness and mental health among 5,286 young people from secondary schools in Scotland. As predicted, they’ve found that individuals who were feeling lonelier were more likely to be experience poorer mental health. Notably, pupils from particular schools showed overall poorer instances of mental health, and in those schools the impact of loneliness in mental health was higher. This demonstrates the need for whole school-based interventions, to address loneliness, and this is particularly needed in schools with the poorer mental health.


What about young people?

In a different study, Dr Long and her colleagues further examined the role of loneliness and wellbeing in 965 young people aged 16-24. They’ve found that full-time students had higher levels of wellbeing compared to part-time students, and that young people with poorer physical health and with caring responsibilities experienced poorer wellbeing, regardless of how lonely they felt. Young people that felt lonelier were more likely to experience poorer wellbeing and this not the case among individuals who chatted with their neighbours or had friends they could count on, demonstrating a protective effect of fostering supportive relationships and engagement in the community. The findings of this study therefore demonstrate that nurturing positive supportive relationships and increase community involvement supports the wellbeing of young people.


What do we know about the risk factors?

In an additional study of 6503 young people in the UK, Dr Long and her colleagues explored the key variables linked to loneliness. The researchers found higher loneliness among younger individuals and in the individuals from minority ethnic backgrounds compared to White British. Heterosexual young people reported lower loneliness than those identifying as minority sexual orientations, of which ‘Other’ sexual orientation was the one most strongly associated with loneliness, compared to gay, lesbian and bisexual. This study further found that loneliness was different across young people based on their geographic location and local authority; young people in Wales were less lonely than those in England. Further, neighborhood quality, a sense of belonging and similarity to others in the neighborhood and more chatting to neighbours were all linked to lower levels of loneliness



All these studies support the previously identified links between loneliness and poor mental health outcomes, and extend these findings to identify individual, social and community risk factors, as well as avenues for prevention and intervention. Risk factors include young people with poorer physical health, non-heterosexual orientation, and having caring responsibilities. Avenues for prevention and intervention include school-based interventions, which are particularly necessary among schools with poorer mental health outcomes. Further, nurturing positive, supportive relationships, especially within one’s community appears to offer protective effects for wellbeing, even among lonely individuals – which may help young people who are already feeling lonely. Interventions fostering social connection at schools, and encouraging community involvement are therefore promising strategies to reduce the heavy burden of loneliness among young people.


Alexandros Kapatais

PhD Student, University of Edinburgh

Alexandros is a first-year (2022-2023) PhD Student in Clinical Psychology at the University of Edinburgh. His research focusses on the promotion of positive wellbeing among students in higher education through the application of Positive Psychology.



Goodfellow, C., Hardoon, D., Inchley, J., Leyland, A. H., Qualter, P., Simpson, S. A., & Long, E. (2022). Loneliness and personal well‐being in young people: Moderating effects of individual, interpersonal, and community factors. Journal of Adolescence94(4), 554-568. https://doi.org/10.1002/jad.12046

Goodfellow, C., Willis, M., Inchley, J., Kharicha, K., Leyland, A. H., Qualter, P., Simpson, S., & Long, E. (2023). Mental health and loneliness in Scottish schools: A multilevel analysisof data from the health behaviour in school-aged children study. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 00, 1–18. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjep.12581

Marquez, J., Goodfellow, C., Hardoon, D., Inchley, J., Leyland, A. H., Qualter, P., … & Long, E. (2022). Loneliness in young people: a multilevel exploration of social ecological influences and geographic variation. Journal of Public Health,00,1-9. https://doi.org/10.1093/pubmed/fdab402

Peplau, L. A., & Perlman D. (1982). Perspective on loneliness. In D. Perlman (Eds.), Loneliness: a sourcebook of current theory, research and therapy (pp. 1-18). Wiley, New York.

Image from Maria Gardani, ScotSMART ©

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