The Problem Of Loneliness In Adolescence

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One in every four adolescents (between ages 10 and 19) worldwide suffer mental illnesses such as mood and anxiety disorders. These and many other mental illnesses are strongly associated with suicide; being that one of the leading causes of death in 15 to 19 years old globally. Loneliness is considered one of the main factors leading to adolescent suicide and mental illnesses such as depression and self-harm. It can also cause some risky behaviours such as recreational drug and alcohol use, violence, eating disturbances, obesity and sleep disturbances.

It is not unusual for adolescents to feel lonely sporadically. The problem begins when it is experience as a persistent and painful feeling. For some teenagers, loneliness become a debilitating psychological condition defined by a deep sense of isolation, emptiness, worthlessness and lack of control. During the adolescence, when social development and identity formation becomes extremely important, prolonged loneliness could emerge as chronic. Therefore, adolescence is a time where unresolved loneliness can become pathologically and come to show a personality trait.

Some researchers believe loneliness is a unidimensional construct (a single entity which is the same for everyone and therefore measurable) while others consider it to be multidimensional (considering social loneliness - as a deficit in one’s social relationships, social networks and social support-, and emotional loneliness - caused by a lack of intimate companionship, explaining why people can sometimes feel alone even when they are surrounded by people).

In the article addressed, loneliness was treated as a multifactorial experience with two main constructs: 1) connectedness with friends and 2) perception of solitude.


Feelings of loneliness for adolescents were strongly related to their feelings of connectedness to friends at school. For the ones that expressed strong feelings of disconnection and isolation from other adolescents it was clear that the absence of good friends was very difficult and painful and it was associated with feelings of sadness. This lack of friendships and the resulting loneliness had negative effect on the lives of these adolescents. It was shown that social connections and friendships were important for emotional wellbeing, as well as that the supportive role social friendships play in preventing feeling of loneliness.


Perception of solitude appeared to be situational. For example, being alone at school was considered to be problematic and associated with exclusion, discomfort or sadness; but being alone at home was much more accepted by the adolescents. In general, these adolescents reported they would never or very rarely intentionally choose to be alone at school.

Sometimes kids can be a bit mean and say ‘you’re a loner’. (Female, 10) There’s a new kid in my class and he seems lonely. because he’s upset, he’s got nothing to do, he’s got no one to play with. (Male, 13)

We do not have many students in school who seem very lonely. Usually some are sitting the corner looking down, looking very sorry for themselves and very low. They don’t look good at all. (Female, 12) Many teenagers identified positive emotions related to spending time alone including relaxing and having some peace, provide space, give freedom to choose their own activities and have some “time” just for themselves. This means that being alone as an occasional event was generally accepted by the adolescents.

It could mean that you want to be alone if you’re having some problems and you feel like being alone or having your own space, that can be the case. Like, you want to be, you’re on your own sitting down just thinking things and you know, you, you want some space from everything. (Female, 11)

It’s good to have friends and everything but sometimes you just need your personal space. (Male, 12) For others, being alone was used as a strategy to cope with frustrations or issues with their families or friends.

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It’s quiet and sometimes you need to be alone to calm down from something and so you’re by yourself, you’re quiet, you can calm down if you’re frustrated at something. (Female, 10) Well, sometimes it helps you. Like if you’re a bit angry, it’s good to be alone and think over something. Instead of acting quickly, or something like that. (Male,12)

However, when they were asked the reason they spent time alone most of the answers were negative which included being angry or upset, having an argument or issues with friends or family members, being bullied, not wanting to talk, being different, not getting along with others or that nobody cared or nobody was home.

Probably not, there are no advantages in it [being alone]. (Male, 12) [When I am alone I feel] Sad and unhappy. (Female, 11)

I don’t like being by myself. [If you are lonely] and you’re by yourself, there’s not much you can do. I hate being bored. (Female, 11)

Most of them considered normal being alone at home and even for the older students this was evident. Still, for the teenagers who appeared to not yet have developed the desire to spend time by themselves being alone at home was undesirable. Negative feelings towards being alone at home seemed to be related to frequency of involuntary aloneness (for example: parents at work, no siblings at home or not being allowed to socialise with friends) and it was in fact those adolescents who spent a lot of time alone at home the ones who had more negative attitude to aloneness.

Well, um, sometimes like when I’m alone, I don’t like it because I have too much of my own company and it gets a bit frustrating, but I think if you’re really, really lonely all the time, you don’t have friends, you get a bit upset about it- but sometimes you need that space for yourself. (Female, 12)

Yeah, and during the holidays. As well my mum and dad are full time [working] parents so I guess I spend a lot of time in my own company [expressed sadness]. (Female, 12)

Although many participants could identify differences between feeling alone and being alone, those who have friendship issues found it more difficult to distinguish between the two. Some of them even related it to feelings of depression. When you’re all by yourself and you’re scared, well, not necessarily scared but there’s no one around you. (Female, 11)


To sum up, being alone can have both positive and negative associations for adolescents and this seems to be influenced by the context and the frequency of being alone. Young people experiencing both a lack of connection with friends and loneliness seem to be at particular risk of poorer mental wellbeing.

Friendships during adolescence are essential since they are significantly associated with adolescent wellbeing and are a preventing factor against problematic issues during puberty. Consequently, detachment from friends is a risk factor for dysfunctional adjustment and depression. It is also important to underscore the ability of some participants to identify schoolmates who had no friends and perceived them as “sad”, “loners” and/or “lonely”.

Loneliness is associated with a lot of physical, psychological, social and mental health outcomes and can become a debilitating condition, especially if it is not resolved during adolescence. Understanding and making the most of periods of time alone helps learning and thinking combined with a positive attitude towards aloneness supports a healthy emotional development during childhood and puberty. Assisting teenagers to both develop secure friendships and positive attitudes towards being alone has an important role to play in reducing adolescent loneliness as well as dropping the risk of associated negative outcomes.

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The Problem Of Loneliness In Adolescence. (2022, February 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 20, 2024, from
“The Problem Of Loneliness In Adolescence.” Edubirdie, 21 Feb. 2022,
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