This study was published in International Journal of Adolescence and Youth, Volume 27, 2022 – Issue 1

Preventing and alleviating loneliness among adolescents and young adults is of the utmost importance when it comes to public health. Loneliness is emphasized in various political action programs as a critical issue to prioritize, investigate and address. Our project group started to explore loneliness as experienced by adolescents and young adults in Swedish Finland in 2019. Link to the project:

The aim of my first study in the project was to synthesize current knowledge of the different causes of involuntary loneliness among adolescents and young adults. The data was collected through a modified integrative literature review (Whittemore, & Knafl, 2005) of the existing research and literature on the causes underlying involuntary loneliness among adolescents and young adults. To identify relevant studies, searches in the PsycInfo, MEDLINE and CINAHL databases were performed as well as searches using the FINNA search portal. The theoretical perspective in the study is that of the theory of caritative caring, according to which each human being is unique and, consequently, should be placed at the centre of care and treated with warmth, goodness and dignity (Eriksson, 2018; Lindström et al., 2018).

In the 21st century, the Internet and other digital solutions/applications have radically transformed how people interact with one another. Although we are increasingly digitally connected, loneliness appears to become more prevalent (Cacioppo et al., 2015) Loneliness is acknowledged as a global public health problem (Fakoya et al., 2020). Now we also know that loneliness peaks during adolescence causing many health issues (Brennan, 1982; Rubenstein & Shaver, 1982; Tornstam et al., 2010). According to Junttila (2018), loneliness amongst adolescents has changed its natural form and many young people experience it while being surrounded by different social groups and having opportunities for networking. Today young adults may often focus on increasing social connections and neglect their emotional needs and thereby the risk of experiencing emotional loneliness is higher among adolescents and young adults than among older generations (Fardghassemi & Joffe, 2022).

Many negative mental health outcomes are associated with loneliness during adolescence (World Health Organization, 2018), for example, depression, aggression (Cacioppo et al., 2015), suicidal thoughts (Lasgaard et al., 2011), poor self-rated health and risky health behaviours (Stickley et al., 2013). An association between low self-esteem and loneliness has also been identified (Sakız et al., 2021). Additionally, loneliness correlates with the tendency to withdraw (De Jong-Gierveld, 1987; Peplau & Perlman, 1982), as adolescents and young adults who experience loneliness are more likely to view themselves as being passively affected by external phenomena which, in turn, can lead to poor social skills and make social contact with others problematic (Van Roekel et al., 2014).

According to the findings in this study, various causes underlied involuntary loneliness in the study group. Four main themes and seven subthemes were generated. The main themes were as follows: Loneliness due to different dimensions of suffering, Loneliness due to personal barriers, Loneliness due to negative life experiences, Loneliness due to life transitions. The subthemes were Physical suffering, Mental suffering; Personality traits, Inefficient coping strategies; Significant loss, Bullying/cyberbullying, Insecure family relationships.

This study demonstrates that involuntary loneliness among adolescents and young adults can be associated with two dimensions of suffering – physical and mental. Adolescents and young adults with chronic physical disease were found to often report social isolation (Cheung & Zebrack, 2017), low social peer acceptance and/or having fewer friends (Riggenbach et al., 2019). Moreover, a ‘vicious circle’ could be created between loneliness and negative mental states such as loneliness and social anxiety (Danneel et al., 2019), loneliness and depression (Vanhalst et al., 2012) or simultaneous loneliness, anxiety and depression (Diehl et al., 2018). Adolescents with mental health concerns were seen to possibly lack the skills to connect with others which increased their sense of not being able to interact with others or of being unworthy of friendship (Marcus et al., 2012). As seen in this review, the isolating nature of many chronic diseases as well as mental health issues can lead to loneliness among youth. That is why we want to emphasize that it is essential for adolescents and young adults to feel invited into and experience communion in the caring encounter (in practice) because a sense of community or belonging facilitates the inner strength necessary for human being’s health (Lindström et al., 2018).

This study also shows that loneliness among adolescents and young adults can depend on various personal barriers such as certain personality traits and inefficient coping strategies that young people may use in their attempts to alleviate loneliness. The study revealed that shyness (Stickley et al., 2016), introversion, unsociability, slowness in making friends, selectivity in relationships, lack of trust in people, self-related doubts (Vaarala et al., 2013) or low self-efficacy (Tu & Zhang, 2015) may be associated with loneliness in our study group. It is important that interventions whereby adolescents can improve their social skills and self-esteem are implemented. For example, different therapeutic interventions such as social skills training programs, shyness and assertion training groups, or cognitive behavioural therapy, may be beneficial (Perlman & Peplau, 1998).

The study indicates that lonelier adolescents and young adults were also seen to be more likely to either lack coping strategies or engage in more negative behaviours such as casual sexual encounters or ‘hook ups’ (Owen et al., 2011), compulsive use of social media apps (Matthews et al., 2019) and both online and offline self-disclosure (Gentina & Chen, 2019) when seeking to manage loneliness. As we can see here, adolescents’ predisposition to prioritize social connections and neglect their emotional needs may lead to emotional loneliness (Fardghassemi & Joffe, 2022). This phenomenon should be taken into consideration when professionals make different interventions to alleviate involuntary loneliness among adolescents and young adults.

Loneliness among adolescents and young adults was also linked to negative life experiences such as significant loss, bullying/cyberbullying and insecure family relationships. The death of a loved one (Thai & Moore, 2018) or having a loved one experiencing poorer health or serious illnesses such as cancer (Karlsson et al., 2013) and HIV (Du et al., 2019) could be associated with various problems among youth, including loneliness. According to the findings, those lonelier adolescents and young adults who had experienced bullying or cyberbullying were also seen to have an increased risk for anxiety, depression and/or distrust of others (Thornberg et al., 2013, Chen & Qin, 2020; Matthews et al., 2019). Even cyberbullying was seen to possibly lead to young people experiencing various psychosocial adjustment difficulties, including loneliness, anxiety or depression (Wright, 2016). Adolescents who lack parental support or experience insecure family relationships when growing up were often seen to experience loneliness (Stickley et al., 2016; Carr et al., 2013). Such factors as a home culture of silence, non-active or absent parental listening, an authoritative home upbringing and/or parental alcoholism were seen to possibly lead to experiences of loneliness later in life (Vaarala et al., 2013). In the theory of caritative caring, the human being’s desire and need to be a part of a communion is fundamental, and being excluded from a communion is detrimental to health and inner strength (Lindström et al., 2018). We stress the importance of establishing safe environments for adolescents and young adults in multiple settings and the development of more effective preventative methods through which, bullying and/or loneliness associated with insecure family relationships can be remedied. Furthermore, it is crucial that effective support and assistance be given to all adolescents and young adults experiencing loneliness and/or problematic circumstances.

The study also highlights that loneliness among adolescents and young adults can be linked to life transitions. Young people who were starting university and international students and military recruits were seen to experience higher rates of loneliness during those life transitions. First-year university students were particularly predisposed to transition stress and loneliness (Carr et al., 2013). Life as a student can be difficult and may include problems with studies, dating, economic issues or living away from home for the first time. These were seen to be factors linked to loneliness and/or involuntary isolation among university students (Vaarala et al., 2013; Lee & Goldstein, 2016). Young university students’ higher emotional loneliness scores were found to be associated with transition-related variables, for instance, changes in diet (Diehl et al., 2018). International university students were seen to possibly experience loneliness and alienation, linked to feelings of being lonely during traditional holidays, missing home and local traditions, a fear of ‘missing out on family ties’ (Wawera & McCamley, 2020) or  experiencing new and unknown settings (Ray et al., 2019; Smith & Khawaja, 2011; Hum & Carr, 2018). Comparable to the transition to university, many risk factors for loneliness specific to the military context were seen in the included studies (Kruse et al., 2014). It is important that adolescents and young adults be given social support when adapting (whether psychological or sociocultural adaptation) to new environments. For example, university and military settings might have unique potential in which effective services can be provided to support students and recruits during times of transition.

With this study, we wish to highlight that multiple causes underlie adolescents’ and young adults’ experiences of involuntary loneliness. Such new understanding of loneliness as a multifaceted phenomenon is important and should be taken into consideration in the implementation of interventions to alleviate involuntary loneliness among youth. Future research should undertake an exploration of the most effective methods for alleviating involuntary loneliness among adolescents and young adults, as related to the diverse causes uncovered here.

The link to the article here:


Yulia Korzhina

PhD candidate in Health Sciences, Department of Caring Science, Faculty of Education and Welfare Studies, Åbo Akademi University, Vaasa, Finland. Member of a research project on loneliness and well-being among adolescents and young adults and a research project on multiprofessional collaboration in a school context concerning health-promoting student care for children and youth. Other areas of research include well-being, suffering and loneliness among older adults, ethical issues and compassion in caring.


Link to Åbo Akademi University profile:

Jessica Hemberg

PhD in Health Sciences, PHN, RN, Associate Professor, Senior Lecturer, Department of Caring Sciences, Faculty of Education and Welfare Studies, Åbo Akademi University, Vaasa, Finland. Subject leader in pedagogical studies for teachers within Health Sciences Didactics and subject leader for leadership in health and social care.

Pia Nyman Kurkiala

PhD in Social Sciences, Docent in Sociology, Researcher in Social Sciences with a focus on Youth Sciences, subject leader in Youth Sciences, Faculty of Education and Welfare Studies, Åbo Akademi University, Vaasa, Finland. 

Lisbeth Fagerström

PhD in Health Sciences, Rector, Professor, Head of the Department of Caring Science, Åbo Akademi University, Vaasa, Finland.


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