More research needed into negative effects of loneliness, say experts

Written by: Joe Stafford

A new report has highlighted where more research is needed into the negative effects of loneliness on the UK’s population.

Experts from The Universities of Manchester and Exeter joined forces to create the report, which was commissioned by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). Led by Manchester’s Professor Pamela Qualter, the authors hope to provide non-specialists with an informed overview of where evidence is lacking in the field of loneliness research.

The report has identified what makes people particularly vulnerable to loneliness and its negative effects, how loneliness changes over time, and what makes effective interventions for those reporting loneliness at different ages.  

Mid-life loneliness – research is needed to address the significant gap in knowledge about loneliness in mid-life (25-60 years), in order to understand how loneliness becomes chronic and what life events may cause it 

Social stigma – a better understanding is needed of the link between social stigma and loneliness, including how loneliness is manifested in marginalised groups and their social networks, the structural factors that can impact loneliness, and how interventions can cause more stigma and alienation

Societal culture - we need to delve more into what aspects of culture are relevant to loneliness, how loneliness is experienced in different cultural groups and what places people from different cultural groups at risk of loneliness and its negative effects

Mental health - although the link between loneliness and poor mental health is clear, there is little evidence for this in certain groups (e.g., men, middle aged adults, marginalised groups) and significant gaps in knowledge about what causes it

Place and context - we need to know a lot more about how where we live and work facilitates social connections, both more generally and for specific communities. Many of these factors are very amenable to intervention

Workplace - knowledge about how work impacts loneliness is still very scarce, but more is needed. This includes evidence about how improved links between work organisations and local communities can help both feel more connected.

The economic case - we need improved methods to truly understand how loneliness affects the economy, both broadly and locally, across time, and how this compares to other factors.

Effectiveness of interventions - more robust research is needed to improve our understanding of what effective interventions should look like and how they can be adjusted to the needs of specific populations 

The report highlights the need for more and better research on the topic of loneliness so that we can understand the factors that increase or alleviate loneliness for specific populations. In addition to needing policy makers to make funding available for this research, the report also highlights that some of the factors that increase or alleviate loneliness are structural and can be addressed only by policy, legislation, and improved services.

Leading this Evidence Gap report was a wonderful opportunity to provide non-experts with a summary of the research findings on loneliness within the UK. In the report we note priorities for future research on loneliness, and highlight gaps for both policymakers and researchers to fill.

Lead author Professor Pamela Qualter, The University of Manchester

“Loneliness is experienced as very personal, which often means that each of us thinks we know exactly what it is, what it is caused by and what effects it has, which might lead funders and policy makers to think that we already know everything we need to know about this,” said fellow author Professor Manuela Barreto from the University of Exeter. “This is not correct, however. This report makes it clear that we still need to carry out quite a lot of research to be well equipped to develop and support interventions that improve connection and or reduce the negative effects of loneliness.”

To read the report, visit https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/tackling-loneliness-evidence-review


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