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Apr 20, 2023 | by What Works Centre for Wellbeing

Key insights into loneliness and wellbeing in young people

In April 2020 we launched our Loneliness and wellbeing in young people project to understand:

  1. How loneliness, mental health and wellbeing link with each other? 
  2. What makes loneliness and wellbeing more or less likely for adolescents and young adults? 
  3. How does young people’s experience in school impact loneliness? 

Led by Dr. Emily Long (MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow), the project is a secondary data analysis initiative using data from the Understanding Society, Community Life Survey and WHO’s Health Behaviour in School-aged Children. It is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

It suggests strong links between loneliness, mental health and wellbeing in young people, and points to how we can adapt our places, spaces and communities to better protect young people from loneliness. 

Published today, our evidence summary collates the project’s key findings and details recommend actions for those working with young people.

Key findings

We know that 16 to 24 year olds report the highest rates of loneliness in the UK, with younger adolescents reporting being more lonely than older groups. 

We found evidence that loneliness in young people is strongly associated with poor wellbeing and mental health. 

Levels of loneliness can be influenced by social, educational and place-level factors:

1. Relationships

Young people are less likely to experience loneliness if they feel a sense of belonging in their school or neighbourhood. This is supported by strong, quality social connections, such as friends you can count on and a cohesive family environment, which are important protective factors.

2. Where you live matters

Individual-level risk factors such as identifying as a sexual minority orientation matter more for young people’s experience of loneliness in some UK areas in comparison to others. This suggests that there are place-based differences impacting loneliness.

3. Where you go to school makes a difference 

Loneliness may be especially detrimental in schools where the mental health of students is poorer. Among lonely adolescents, the school they attend is more predictive of their mental health than for their less lonely peers. 

4. Social media

No relationship was found between the number of hours spent interacting with friends on social media and loneliness. But we also know that face-to-face contact, such as going out with friends, is associated with reduced loneliness.

Explore further details in our project overview

Discover the academic papers published as part of this project:

Next steps

If you work with children and young people it is important and useful to know that there is a relationship between loneliness, mental health and wellbeing.

Read the full evidence summary to explore specific interventions and recommendations for communities, schools, councils, charities, funders, families, policymakers, health workers, educational bodies and academics that could make a difference to young people’s loneliness and wellbeing.

Working out what can change and what the next steps in evidence are means that it’s easier to effectively prevent and tackle loneliness, improve mental health and overall wellbeing.

What are we doing?

We’re continuing to build on what we know about loneliness including:


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