Impact of loneliness on adolescents’ mental health varies between schools

Published 23rd January 2023

Loneliness is strongly linked with poorer mental health in adolescents, with the impact of loneliness on their mental health varying depending on the school they attend, a new study has found.

Published in the British Journal of Educational Psychology, the research is thought to be the first to explore the association between loneliness and mental health in schools. It identifies that school-based interventions targeting mental health may be especially necessary among lonely adolescents, and says programmes aimed at tackling loneliness may be more beneficial in schools with poorer mental health.

The research analysed pre-existing data on 5,286 pupils with an average age of 13-and-a-half at 208 schools. Just over half the sample were girls.

Lead researcher Dr Claire Goodfellow said:

“Our findings highlight that while loneliness is typically associated with poorer mental health among adolescents, the nature of this association differs depending on the school a young person attends. 

“In a school where average mental health tends to be lower, the negative impact of loneliness on mental health is stronger than at schools where the average mental health is higher. This means that schools which aim to foster positive mental health among students may also have a positive impact in reducing loneliness. Schools play an important role in the potential to minimise loneliness among young people, and therefore improving their mental health.”

The study adds to the body of literature emerging on the links between loneliness and adolescent mental health, and how the links between the two vary in different school settings. It also establishes links between mental health and demographic, social and other school factors, such as relationships with teachers.

It found that an improved school climate, including supportive teacher relationships, and increased sense of belonging, can bolster adolescent mental health and the evidence that an over-emphasis on academic achievement may be detrimental to mental health. Family support may also may be of key importance in supporting the mental health of young teenagers.

The study adds to the debate around social media use and mental health in adolescence with links found between increased frequency of online contact with friends and others, and a preference for online communication with poorer mental health. 

The paper, Mental health and loneliness in Scottish schools: A multilevel analysis of data from the health behaviour in school-aged children study is published in the British Journal of Educational Psychology. 

First published: 23 January 2023

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