Unwanted loneliness impacts on young people

One in four young Spaniards feel lonely. Image of Barcelona City Council.

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Unwanted loneliness impacts on young people

Written by Laura Casamitjana

A quarter of Spaniards aged between 16 and 29 are affected by the problem, according to a study.

Elderly person, with no – or very poor – family networks, who lives alone and may have certain problems of autonomy. This is the classic profile that comes to mind when talking about unwanted loneliness. However, a report notes another vulnerable group: young people.

The “Study on youth and unwanted loneliness in Spain”, carried out by SoledadES in collaboration with Ayuda en Acción, points out that one in four young people is affected by unwanted loneliness. That is, 25.5% of people aged between 16 and 29. Of the total number of people in a situation of unwanted loneliness, there are differential factors that are more prevalent among people who are part of historically discriminated groups. These would be women (31.1%), people with disabilities (54.4%), the LGTBI group (39.7%), and those of foreign origin (32.8%).

The quality and quantity of social relations is decisive.

The basis of unwanted loneliness lies in the quality and quantity of relationships. During this stage of life, friends play a crucial role, “friendship relationships are the ones that have the greatest impact on youth loneliness, above family, work or study”, explains the report. It notes that having fewer relationships with friends than desired is “a significant factor, which increases the probability of suffering unwanted loneliness more than any other, by 4.7 times”.

This whole issue is intertwined with social skills and attitudes, people who feel lonely have much less trust in others, and scepticism may in turn be rooted in traumatic events: “the percentage of people who have been bullied at school or at work at some time in their lives is almost twice as high among young people who experience unwanted loneliness (58.1% have been bullied) as among young people who have not (32.1% have been bullied)”.

Causalities, a multi-sided coin

The phenomenon is multi-causal. Unemployment and inequality are two major axes of direct relationship: “unemployed people suffer a prevalence of loneliness 5 points higher than those who study or work […] the prevalence among young people from households with economic difficulties is almost twice as high as among young people from households that make ends meet easily (36% compared to 19.4%)”, the report mentions. It categorically adds that “multivariate analysis finds the relationship between poverty and loneliness to be significant”.

A key study factor has been how digitisation affects them, as Generation Z is the “digital natives”.

It has been found that face-to-face is still winning over screens: “people who have relationships with friends mainly online are 2 times more likely to suffer from unwanted loneliness.

However, having relationships mainly online or at a distance with family members or with the work or study environment does not have a significant effect on loneliness”. The issue, then, lies in the quality of the face-to-face, as the digital world in certain situations can be an ally.

Another issue that concerns gene z is mental health. In this case, it also has a two-way influence, and poor mental health and a higher risk of vulnerability are directly related: “People who suffer from loneliness suffer in the vast majority of cases from some form of anxiety or depression, 77.8% of cases, compared to 34.8% among those who do not suffer from loneliness. Moreover, young people who feel lonely have a lower level of self-esteem than those who do not feel lonely”. Considering health in a more generic way, another relevant fact shown in the study is that people who “perceive their state of health in a negative or regular way are 42.2% more likely to suffer from unwanted loneliness”.

Preventing, detecting, intervening: the three tools to fight the phenomenon

To alleviate unwanted loneliness, SoledadES stresses the need for prevention, detection, and intervention. The educational ecosystem is key to carrying out this task, for example, they are committed to promoting emotional education and inclusivity in all educational levels. In this line of work, another approach of the report is to “strengthen educational staff to improve ratios, the quality of education and thus educational equity and levels of success, or to strengthen and adapt active employment policies for young people”. Developing specific youth care services aimed at reducing loneliness, strengthening protection and early warning systems linked to mental health, promoting the participation of young people in the design and implementation of public policies on the subject and favouring spaces for social interaction are some of the other initiatives aimed at reducing the impact of the problem.

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Unwanted loneliness impacts on young people

Written by Laura Casamitjana

A quarter of Spaniards aged between 16 and 29 are affected by the problem, according to a study.

Elderly person, with no – or very poor – family networks, who lives alone and may have certain problems of autonomy. This is the classic profile that comes to mind when talking about unwanted loneliness. However, a report notes another vulnerable group: young people.

The “Study on youth and unwanted loneliness in Spain”, carried out by SoledadES in collaboration with Ayuda en Acción, points out that one in four young people is affected by unwanted loneliness. That is, 25.5% of people aged between 16 and 29. Of the total number of people in a situation of unwanted loneliness, there are differential factors that are more prevalent among people who are part of historically discriminated groups. These would be women (31.1%), people with disabilities (54.4%), the LGTBI group (39.7%), and those of foreign origin (32.8%).

The quality and quantity of social relations is decisive.

The importance of friendships in the fight against youth loneliness has been highlighted in a recent report. According to the study, friendships play a crucial role in young people’s lives, surpassing even family, work, or academic relationships. Having fewer friends than desired was found to significantly increase the risk of experiencing unwanted loneliness by up to 4.7 times.

This analysis further reveals that interpersonal trust and traumatic experiences are closely related to youth loneliness. According to the data, the percentage of young people who have experienced bullying at school or work is almost twice as high among those who experience unwanted loneliness compared to those who do not. These findings highlight the need to address the social and emotional challenges faced by young people to combat unwanted loneliness at this stage of life.

Causalities, a multi-sided coin

Loneliness among young people has several causes. According to a report, unemployment and economic inequality are two of the main factors. Unemployed people are 5% more likely to be lonely than those who are working or studying. Moreover, loneliness is almost twice as high among young people from economically disadvantaged families compared to those from better-off families (36% compared to 19.4%).

Another important issue is how technology affects young people. Although Generation Z is very familiar with the digital world, face-to-face relationships are still key to avoiding loneliness. Those who have most of their relationships online are twice as likely to feel lonely. However, having online relationships with family members or work/study colleagues does not increase perceptions of loneliness.

Mental health also plays an important role. Most people who feel lonely have problems with anxiety or depression, much more than those who do not feel lonely. They also have lower self-esteem. Another interesting finding is that people who perceive their health as negative or fair are 42.2% more likely to feel lonely. These findings highlight the importance of addressing not only social, but also emotional and mental health issues to combat loneliness among young people.

Preventing, detecting, intervening: the three tools to fight the phenomenon

To combat unwanted loneliness, SoledadES emphasises prevention, detection, and intervention. It stresses the importance of the education system, proposing more emotional education and inclusion at all levels. In addition, it suggests improving the conditions of educational staff to ensure quality and equitable teaching.

The report also advocates adapting employment policies to the needs of young people. It proposes creating specific services for youth care, strengthening mental health protection systems, and encouraging the active participation of young people in the formulation of public policies. Promoting spaces for social interaction is another key initiative to reduce the impact of unwanted loneliness.

 

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