Review: Interventions addressing loneliness amongst university students: a systematic review

Child Adolesc Ment Health. 2023 Nov;28(4):512-523. doi: 10.1111/camh.12614. Epub 2022 Dec 10.


Background: Loneliness is detrimental to mental health, with university students at higher risk of feeling lonely than other population groups. However, little research has explored interventions to reduce loneliness among students. This review identifies the characteristics and effectiveness of interventions targeting university/college students.

Methods: PsycINFO, Medline, ASSIA and Web of Science were searched from inception using keywords linked to 'loneliness', 'intervention' and 'students'. Relevant peer and nonpeer-reviewed English-language articles on studies implementing an intervention with loneliness as an outcome and investigating undergraduate or postgraduate students at a higher education institution were included for quality analysis and narrative synthesis. Risk of bias was assessed at both study level and at outcome level.

Results: Twenty-eight articles were included, comprising 25 quantitative and three qualitative studies, covering 37 interventions, most implemented in the United States. Interventions were based on psychoeducation, social support groups, increasing social interaction or reflective exercises. The age of the participants (n = 2339) ranged from 17.62 to 25 (mean age 20.63) years. Evidence from the RCTs suggests that most interventions influenced loneliness outcomes, but the magnitude of the benefit is unclear. Across quantitative studies, 80% (16/20) of interventions based on either social support groups, increasing social interaction or reflective exercises, and 50% (7/14) of interventions based on psychoeducation were deemed effective in reducing loneliness. Most interventions measured quantitatively were delivered in a group setting, of which two thirds were considered effective in reducing loneliness scores, regardless of intervention.

Conclusions: Universities have a choice of interventions to help reduce loneliness among students either on campus or virtually. Ones promoting social connectedness appear to be more successful. More high-quality studies in a larger number of countries are needed, taking vulnerable student groups into consideration.

Keywords: Students; college; interventions; loneliness; mental health; prevention; social connectedness; university.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review
  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Emotions
  • Humans
  • Loneliness* / psychology
  • Social Support
  • Students*
  • Universities
  • Young Adult