Changing the narrative: Loneliness as a social justice issue

Manuela Barreto, David matthew Doyle, Pamela Qualter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Loneliness is most often understood as resulting from individual deficits that shape poor social engagement and unsatisfying interactions. As a consequence, interventions to address loneliness most often focus on fixing the lonely individual, for example, by modifying their social appraisals and skills, or encouraging them to get out more. In this paper, we characterize and contribute to changing this dominant narrative by arguing that it is both unhelpful and incomplete. We explain that this dominant narrative (1) increases loneliness and makes people feel worse about this experience, (2) does not account for important predictors of loneliness, (3) guides us to interventions that do not produce sufficiently effective or sustainable change, and (4) hinders broader understandings of the societal impact of loneliness. In this way, we argue that the dominant narrative around loneliness contributes to further setting those who feel lonely apart from the rest of society. We propose that attention to individual factors needs to be complemented by the acknowledgement that loneliness is heavily determined by social and structural conditions that render it unequally distributed in society, a situation that qualifies loneliness as a social justice issue.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPolitical Psychology
Early online date6 Mar 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 6 Mar 2024


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