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Young People More Vulnerable to Loneliness Than Thought

WEDNESDAY, June 10, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- Even with social media keeping more people connected than ever before, young people in many nations are more likely to feel lonely, British researchers report.

"Contrary to what people may expect, loneliness is not a predicament unique to older people," said lead researcher Manuela Barreto, from the University of Exeter, in England. "In fact, younger people report greater feelings of loneliness."

The findings come from an analysis of the responses of more than 46,000 people, aged 16 to 99, around the globe, who took part in the BBC Loneliness Experiment.

Because loneliness comes from a sense that one's social connections are not as good as hoped, the finding might reflect different expectations younger and older people have, Barreto noted.

"The age pattern we discovered seems to hold across many countries and cultures," Barreto said in a university news release.

But Pamela Qualter, a professor from the University of Manchester, added that the findings based on gender are mixed.

"There is an awareness that admitting to feeling 'lonely' can be especially stigmatizing for men," she said.

"However, when this word is not used in the measures, men sometimes report more loneliness than women," Qualter added. "This is indeed what we found."

The survey used responses from 237 countries, islands and territories, which enabled the researchers to analyze cultural differences.

Barreto explained that "this is particularly important because evidence for cultural differences in loneliness is very mixed, and culture can affect actual and desired social interactions in opposite directions."

She added that it "can be argued that admitting to feeling lonely is also more stigmatizing in individualistic societies, where people are expected to be self-reliant and autonomous."

Barreto suggested that during the coronavirus pandemic, people should be on the lookout for how social changes are affecting young people.

"Though it is true that younger people are better able to use technology to access social relationships, it is also known than when this is done as a replacement -- rather than an extension -- of those relationships, it does not mitigate loneliness," she said.

More information

To understand more about loneliness, head to the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration.

SOURCE: University of Exeter, news release, May 27, 2020

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