We talk about them, and many well-meaning people want to help them – namely the growing number of adolescents and young adults who are lonely and not thriving. But who exactly are these young people? This is the question a new report called “Loneliness among young people” seeks to answer.
The first step is to look at how widespread the problem is. Twelve per cent of young people in Region Midtjylland (central Jutland in Denmark) feel extremely lonely. This statistic is higher than for any other age group. Among the 16 to 19-year-old age group, twice as many young women (16%) experience severe loneliness compared to young men (8%). This difference evens out for the 20 to 24-year-old segment, however, for which there is no significant difference between the genders.
Meanwhile, the analysis does show a gender gap when it comes to the correlation between loneliness and other social factors. Among young women, those living with other people experience loneliness to a lesser extent. For young men, however, being in a romantic relationship – whether new or established – appears to play a role in protecting them from feeling lonely.
“It is surprising to find that the prevalence of loneliness is low among young men who have a partner, whereas this factor has no relevance for young women. This suggests that a likely solution would be to expose boys to more dating. But it’s probably not that simple. Being in a romantic relationship presumably protects young men from feeling lonely. But at the same time, it may be easier for people who do not feel lonely to find a partner,” said senior researcher Mathias Lasgaard, who has produced the report.
Less surprisingly, the analysis also shows a strong correlation between loneliness and various indicators for poor mental health and mental health problems. In fact, as many as four out of every ten young people who feel extremely lonely also report being stressed, and one third show symptoms of depression and/or are affected by anxiety and tension.
As with the other age groups, being in school or working has an impact. If an individual is neither studying nor working, the risk of severe loneliness doubles.
A more uplifting finding is that most of the young people experiencing loneliness are not socially isolated. Seventy-seven per cent of young people who feel extremely lonely maintain contact with their friends daily or once or twice a week. By comparison, the equivalent statistic for non-lonely young people is 92%.
For The Mary Foundation, this new insight adds value to its efforts to prevent and eradicate loneliness among young people:
“There are numerous theories about young people’s experience of loneliness, but a relatively small amount of actual knowledge. This new analysis can help those of us who work to combat loneliness among young people to target our efforts more effectively. And the analysis is also a signal to all of us that lonely young people often maintain contact with others, so we should perhaps make more of an effort to talk about loneliness in general,” said Helle Østergaard, Director of The Mary Foundation.