Background: Loneliness is common among youth and is associated with poor physical and mental health, and poor educational outcomes. To date, there have been no meta-analyses of interventions aimed at reducing loneliness among young people.
Methods: We conducted meta-analyses of single group and randomised control trials (RCTs) of studies published between 1980 and 2019, which measured loneliness as an outcome in youth ages 25 years or younger. Moderators, including sample demographics and intervention characteristics, that might affect intervention success, were examined.
Results: A total of 39 studies (14 single group and 25 RCTs) were included, and we found evidence that youth loneliness could be reduced via intervention. Moderator analysis - including intervention characteristics, study quality and sample demographics - was also examined.
Conclusions: While interventions were shown to reduce loneliness among youth, the interventions included in the meta-analyses often targeted youth viewed to be at risk - for example those with health concerns - and rarely did the interventions target youth who reported loneliness. There is also no indication of whether youth experienced chronic or transient loneliness. In future work, interventions should be designed specifically for loneliness, with universal programmes helping youth manage their transient feelings of loneliness, and targeted interventions for those suffering from chronic loneliness. There is also a need to look at socioeconomic and other risk factors outside the individual for targeted interventions.
Key practitioner message: There have been no meta-analyses that have evaluated the effect of interventions for reducing loneliness among children and adolescents. We found intervention programmes targeted at youth are successful at reducing loneliness. Future interventions should be designed specially with loneliness in mind, with (a) universal programmes to help youth manage their experiences of transient loneliness, and (b) targeted interventions for youth reporting chronic loneliness. They should also examine the longer-term outcomes of the interventions. Future interventions should be designed, evaluated and then documented using guidelines on how to write up an intervention evaluation.
Keywords: Loneliness; adolescents; children; interventions; meta-analysis; review.
© 2020 The Authors. Child and Adolescent Mental Health published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health.