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Relationship between loneliness and mental health in students

Thomas Richardson (Mental Health Recovery Team North, Solent NHS Trust, Portsmouth, UK) (School of Psychology, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK)
Peter Elliott (School of Psychology, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK)
Ron Roberts (Department of Psychology, Kingston University, Kingston-Upon-Thames, UK)

Journal of Public Mental Health

ISSN: 1746-5729

Article publication date: 19 June 2017




Previous cross-sectional research has examined the effect of loneliness on mental health. The purpose of this paper is to examine longitudinal relationships in students.


A total of 454 British undergraduate students completed measures of loneliness and mental health at four time points.


After controlling for demographics and baseline mental health, greater loneliness predicted greater anxiety, stress, depression and general mental health over time. There was no evidence that mental health problems increased loneliness over time. There was no relationship with alcohol problems. Baseline loneliness predicted greater eating disorder risk at follow-up and vice versa.

Research limitations/implications

This study is limited by a relatively small and heavily female sample.

Practical implications

Social and psychological interventions to reduce loneliness in university settings may improve mental health.

Social implications

Universities should consider organising social activities to mitigate feelings of loneliness in students.


This study adds to the literature as a longitudinal analysis showing that loneliness exacerbates poor mental health over time. This also adds to the literature for students specifically, and suggests a possible bi-directional relationship between eating disorders and loneliness for the first time.



The authors thank the universities who helped with recruitment and those who took part in the survey. The authors also thank Harriet Collie who helped perform a literature search to help inform this paper and Megan Jansen who assisted in the write-up. This data was collected as part of a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology, which is funded by the UK National Health Service.


Richardson, T., Elliott, P. and Roberts, R. (2017), "Relationship between loneliness and mental health in students", Journal of Public Mental Health, Vol. 16 No. 2, pp. 48-54.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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