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Jun 15, 2023 | by What Works Centre for Wellbeing

Tackling loneliness – our work growing the evidence base 2018-2023

Connections with others are a core driver of our mental wellbeing and high wellbeing nations. This social and mental capital is part of our hidden wealth and resilience. As such, tackling loneliness and promoting positive social connections are key priorities for our work as an evidence centre.  

For Loneliness Awareness Week (12 – 18 June 2023), we’re highlighting what we currently know works to tackle loneliness by releasing new findings, revisiting what we know and inviting you to engage with our work, including joining our online event.


Laying the foundations for change

When the UK Government commissioned us to explore loneliness in 2018, we discovered a lack of robust evidence for what works, largely due to lack of consistency in defining and measuring concepts. We also found that the majority of existing loneliness evidence focused on older populations, with a notable absence of understanding or support for those under 55 years of age.

Our rapid review of evidence on interventions helped shape the UK government’s 2018 Loneliness Strategy, the world’s first for tackling loneliness. In particular, it supported the strategy’s approach to policy design evaluation methods and underlined a need for evidence about loneliness at different ages. 

To address the gaps identified in our 2018 review, we: 

We are now updating and building on this work by reviewing the evidence on loneliness alleviation and mapping current practices, in collaboration with The Campaign to End Loneliness. The Centre has formally hosted the Campaign since 2021, as part of our continued focus on loneliness and connection. Together, we partner on initiatives that tackle loneliness across the life course and to improve the evidence base around effective interventions.

The latest project is funded by the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) Tackling Loneliness Team and involves:

  • Qualitative and quantitative research to understand interventions that exist to tackle loneliness. This research involves expert interviews, using practice-based knowledge to understand the active ingredients and mechanisms of success.
  • A rapid systematic review to bring together the evidence on the effectiveness of loneliness interventions, looking at studies that evaluate programmes and pilots aimed at alleviating loneliness.

Findings from the first phase of the project will be released soon, and will be shared on our project page.

Five years on

Join the Campaign’s online event on Wednesday 21 June 2023, 17.00 – 18.00 to reflect on the Loneliness Strategy and explore what can we achieve in the next five years.

During the webinar, we’ll hear from leaders in the field and gather ideas from a community of people working to tackle loneliness. Speakers include Kim Leadbeater MP and Co-Chair of the APPG on Tackling Loneliness and Connected Communities, Noreena Hertz Author of The Lonely Century, and Chair Sarah O’Grady Social Affairs Correspondent at Daily Express.

The event coincides with the week of Jo Cox’s birthday, whose Commission on Loneliness helped inform the strategy and world’s first Minister for Loneliness.

Loneliness, wellbeing and social connections

The theme of Loneliness Awareness Week 2023 is ‘Connection Matters’. Social connections are consistently found to be the strongest drivers of wellbeing, both individually and collectively. For example, having someone to rely on in times of trouble is the top driver of difference between high and low wellbeing countries,  while our partner relationship is the second biggest driver of overall life satisfaction. Loneliness is often connected to poor physical health, mental health, and wellbeing, – with potentially adverse effects on communities.

It is possible to feel lonely despite being socially connected. Conversely, a person might not interact much with others and experience a positive feeling of solitude without loneliness. This is because loneliness is related to but distinct from social isolation. Loneliness can be thought of as “a subjective, unwelcome feeling of lack or loss of companionship, which happens when there is a mismatch between the quantity and quality of the social relationships that we have, and those that we want.” (Perlman and Peplau, 1981). Social isolation is an objective condition that can be quantifiably assessed by the number and frequency of social connections and interactions. 

Social isolation and loneliness across the life course

Despite an increase in policy interest, there is little evidence documenting the associations between social isolation, loneliness and subjective wellbeing across our lives and between generations. 

Our research project, led by Professor Praveetha Patalay at University College London, seeks to address this gap, while also generating a range of comparable measures of social isolation for future research that uses UK generation data.

The project’s first report uses data from five British longitudinal cohort studies to explore social isolation trends over time, highlighting the value of longitudinal data and a multi-context approach.

Discover key insights and how this evidence can be used in practice in our briefing document, which focuses on synthesising the report’s findings and recommendations.

Loneliness in young people and suggested interventions

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. Nevertheless, there has traditionally been a gap in analysing loneliness amongst this group. 

To build our understanding of who and how young people are affected, as well as generate recommendations for those supporting  young people in a variety of settings, we worked with Dr. Emily Long from the University of Glasgow, on our ‘Loneliness and wellbeing in young people’ project.

The project resulted in four papers – each considering a different research aim: 

  • Identifying risk and protective factors for loneliness in young people
  • Examining mental health and loneliness in Scottish schools
  • Examining links between loneliness, mental health and wellbeing
  • Determining trajectories of loneliness during Covid-19

Find out more on our project page, including project reports, all four full academic papers, key insights, and suggested interventions for those working with young people or in the field of loneliness.

Launched by Marmalade Trust in 2017, Loneliness Awareness Week is dedicated to raising awareness and reducing stigma. Find out how you can get involved in this year’s campaign.

Keep up-to-date on our projects, latest news and resources by signing up to our weekly email

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