Loneliness over time: The crucial role of social anxiety

J Abnorm Psychol. 2016 Jul;125(5):620-30. doi: 10.1037/abn0000162. Epub 2016 Apr 28.


Loneliness is known to be associated with multiple adverse physical outcomes, including higher mortality and morbidity risk. However, the impact of loneliness on mental health is less well researched, with most studies assessing how loneliness relates to depressive symptoms alone. We hypothesized that 2 mental health symptoms that relate to the fear of others-social anxiety and paranoia-would contribute to loneliness. We examined how loneliness relates to social anxiety, paranoia, and depression symptoms in a general community sample aged 18-87 years old (N = 1,010). We administered online measures over 3 time points across a 6-month period. In a cross-lagged structural equation model controlling for trait levels and prior states, our results indicated that earlier loneliness positively predicted future states of social anxiety, paranoia, and depression. However, in the same model, earlier social anxiety was the only predictor of future loneliness. These results suggest that loneliness may be a potential antecedent to emerging mental health symptoms and that identifying and treating co-occurring social anxiety symptoms may reduce the severity of loneliness. (PsycINFO Database Record

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anxiety / complications*
  • Depression / complications*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Loneliness*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Mental Health*
  • Mental Status Schedule
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Psychological
  • Paranoid Disorders / complications*
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult