Addressing loneliness in emerging adulthood (16-25 years): What do we know and what do we need to know?
Online workshop 2-4pm on 9th June 2021
The Loneliness & Social Isolation in Mental Health Research Network (LSIMHRN) and the NIHR School for Public Health Research (SPHR) public mental health programme, in collaboration with TRIUMPH, Emerging Minds and SMaRteN, hosted an online workshop on how to tackle loneliness and social isolation in 16-25 year olds.
The workshop brought together young people and individuals from different disciplines and sectors to identify key research areas to tackle loneliness and social isolation in 16-25 year olds, to build on the findings of a survey that ran 25th March-31st May 2021 to identify the key challenges and promising approaches to address lonelines in this age group.
We encourage those interested in forming collaborations for developing research grant applications to address loneliness in emerging adults to join our #young_people Slack channel (instructions on how to join a specific Slack channel can be found here).
- Blog by Kristiyana Taneva: Reflections on the Loneliness in Emerging Adults workshop
“Younger adults aged 16 to 24 years reported feeling lonely more often than those in older age groups” (ONS, 2018). This is one of unfortunately many statistics reporting that emerging adulthood can be a time of loneliness for many young people. The LSIMHRN ‘Addressing loneliness in emerging adulthood’ event that took place on June 9th, crucially discussed already existing knowledge of loneliness and associated mental ill-health in 16-25 year olds, as well as current interventions. The evidently high percentages of people feeling lonely in combination with the Covid-19 pandemic has enhanced the need for further discussions, as lockdowns and social distancing rules have made social interactions more difficult. What follows are observations from a young person’s perspective, with a look into how approaches can be improved.
As mentioned, loneliness within the youth part of the population in the UK has become a noticeable issue requiring urgent attention. Between the ages of 16 and 25 many go through a period of transition – going to university, moving out of family homes or even choosing to live on their own. All of these factors create a more likely environment for one to experience mental distress, which often leads to self-isolation and feeling lonely. It is important to look at data here that demonstrate some of the known details. Firstly, while overall women tend to experience mental health issues more often, with loneliness when talking about ‘What do we know about loneliness in 16-25 year olds?’, Pam Qualter from the University of Manchester highlighted that within emerging adulthood there is no significant difference between genders, which is suggestive of the gravity of the issue. Secondly, although people living alone may be more prone to loneliness, living alone does not always mean feeling lonely. A big proportion of people in the age group in fact meet many new people in that period, yet report loneliness. Within the same portion of the event, Maria Loades from the University of Bath specifically focused on how the Covid-19 pandemic has changed perceptions of loneliness and has made it more difficult to overcome. On one hand, not so positively, Covid-19 has led to increased hardships, but on another it has made people more aware of loneliness, reduced stigma and encouraged research.
To be able to tackle loneliness, it is crucial that it is understood where loneliness is experienced, as pointed out by Esther Maughan McLachlan from The Loneliness Lab, who spoke about ‘How can the built environment help reduce loneliness in emerging adults?’ with Jake Heitland from Lendlease. Although considered a social setting, university tends to be a central location for those feelings of loneliness. Not participating in the same activities as everyone else tends to be the most significant with those living outside university accommodations too. Those feelings of difference affect students’ relationships with others or even more, make them a subject of bullying. These elements leave many with a feeling of a lack of sense of community and regular internal struggles.
Alice Eccles from the University of Chester and her talk on ‘What (public health) interventions already exist?’ demonstrated that promising steps have been made towards bettering the situation. Public health interventions, mental health phonelines and services are just some that already exist. However, often, those are designed by people who are not directly experiencing the problem but have studied it. As advocated by Jeremy Segrott and Olivia Gallen from DECIPHer at Cardiff University in a talk called ‘Considerations for designing a public health intervention for 16-25 year olds’, in order to more effectively grapple with loneliness, more young people who are part of those settings themselves should be involved in research and in developing strategies. Getting their opinion, observations and suggestions, and putting them into practice, is very likely to create new progressive ways of addressing loneliness effectively. Furthermore, reducing stigma around seeking help but also ensuring anonymity and accessibility at university, would provide a more favourable environment for those struggling with loneliness and mental ill-health. What is more, although undeniably difficult, making efforts to broaden the scope of services and fit a range of needs, interventions should be more adaptable. Less uniformity and more community involvement would bring more diversity and ability to reach more people in need than it does currently.
About the author
My name is Kristiyana Taneva and I’m an undergraduate student in Social Policy at the University of Kent. Over the past 3 years, I have worked with The Student Mental Health Research Network (SMaRteN) between 2019-2020, gotten involved in research as part of the Loneliness and Social Isolation in Mental Health Research Network (LSIMHRN) and hope to work on mental health policy analysis and proposals post-graduation.
Kristiyana was one of three young people on a panel that reflected on the talks as part of this event on 9th June 2021.
Office of National Statistics (2018) Loneliness - What characteristics and circumstances are associated with feeling lonely? https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/wellbeing/articles/lonelinesswhatcharacteristicsandcircumstancesareassociatedwithfeelinglonely/2018-04-10