Loneliness from the Perspective of Adolescents: Qualitative Explorations of Youth's Conceptualisations of Loneliness

  • Lily Verity

Student thesis: Phd


Loneliness arises when an individual perceives a deficit in their social relationships. It has been identified as a common problem among adolescents. Among youth (8-18 years), it has primarily been investigated through the use of quantitative methods, using measures that have been developed from knowledge generated through research with adults. That means important facets of loneliness in youth may have been overlooked, which means interventions being designed for youth reporting loneliness may be inappropriate. The current thesis argues that qualitative research is needed to establish how loneliness is experienced by adolescents. Further, given the amount of time youth spend in school, there is a need to explore the role of schools in supporting adolescents experiencing loneliness. The thesis includes three qualitative studies that were conducted to establish how young people conceptualise loneliness, and the strategies they identify as useful for coping with loneliness. The studies use Thematic Framework Analysis (TFA) to develop salient themes across each dataset, and together they provide novel insights into the experience of loneliness in adolescence, including that experiences of loneliness are centred around peers, primarily take place at school, and involve the notion that one does not fit in with those around you. Those loneliness conceptualisations were consistent across countries. The studies identified coping strategies youth thought were effective in managing loneliness: adolescents discussed personal strategies, such as changing how you think about your situation, but also social environment strategies, including the creation of inclusive school environments. Based on those findings, universal social and emotional learning interventions that involve co-production of strategies with young people are recommended for helping youth alleviate loneliness. 7 Study 1 includes an analysis of 67 conversations between young people (12–18 years of age) who had contacted Childline online counsellors to talk about loneliness, with the aim of establishing the contexts in which youth experienced loneliness, what types of circumstances gave rise to loneliness, and how youth coped with those experiences. Studies 2 and 3 include the collection of data from semi-structured interviews with young people aged 8–14 years in Italy and Belgium (n=24), and young people aged 14–16 years across five different European countries (n=29). Those countries included Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Serbia, and Turkey. The collection of data from youth across Europe was completed to examine whether there are cross-cultural differences in youth’s conceptualisations of loneliness. In all three studies, loneliness was identified to centre around youth’s relationships with peers, and accordingly took place primarily at school. Turmoil at home also exacerbated loneliness. Across all three studies, being excluded and feeling misunderstood by those around them were commonly stated as underpinning loneliness; there were indications that those feelings were associated with experiences of discrimination or prejudice from peers. Negative cognitions about oneself and others were also typical of youth’s reports of loneliness. In Study 1, those experiencing loneliness were at a loss of how to cope long-term. Those in studies 2 and 3 were asked directly about strategies they thought would be useful to help youth cope with loneliness, and what those around youth could do to help them overcome loneliness. They highlighted how individual differences and ecological systems contribute to the management of loneliness. The findings in this thesis show that youth conceptualised loneliness as a negative emotional experience that involves not feeling like you belong with those around you. That conceptualisation was consistent across countries suggesting that loneliness is understood similarly by youth of different cultures. The findings build on current theory by i
Date of Award31 Dec 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorMichael Wigelsworth (Supervisor) & Pamela Qualter (Supervisor)


  • qualitative
  • development
  • loneliness
  • adolescence

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