Loneliness, social relationships, and mental health in adolescents during the COVID-19 pandemic

Kate Cooper, Emily Hards, Bettina Moltrecht, Shirley Reynolds, Adrienne Shum, Eoin McElroy, Maria Loades

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Loneliness is a common experience in adolescence and is related to a range of mental health problems. Such feelings may have been increased by social distancing measures introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic. We aimed to investigate the effect of loneliness, social contact, and parent relationships on adolescent mental health during lockdown in the UK. Young people aged 11–16 years (n = 894) completed measures of loneliness, social contact, parent-adolescent relationships, and mental health difficulties during the first 11 weeks of lockdown and one-month later (n = 443). We examined cross-sectional associations and longitudinal relationships between loneliness, social contact, and parent relationships and subsequent mental health. Adolescents who reported higher loneliness had significantly higher symptoms of mental health difficulties during lockdown. We found that adolescents who had closer relationships with their parents reported significantly less severe symptoms of mental health difficulties and lower levels of loneliness. We also found that adolescents who spent more time texting others reported higher symptoms of mental health difficulties. Our hypothesis that loneliness would predict poorer mental health one month later was not supported. Time spent texting others at baseline was significantly associated with higher hyperactivity at follow-up, and closeness to parents was significantly associated with lower psychological distress at follow-up. We conclude that while loneliness was associated with greater mental health difficulties at baseline, it did not predict increased mental health difficulties one month later. Moreover, existing mental health problems significantly predicted later increase, thereby highlighting the importance of continuing support for vulnerable people.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)98-104
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Early online date24 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Co-SPACE is funded through UKRI/ESRC Covid-19 Rapid Response funding and funding from the Westminster Foundation . Dr Cooper and Dr Loades are funded by the National Institute for Health Research (I CA-CDRF-2018-04-ST2-047; DRF-2016-09-021 ). This report is independent research. The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.


  • Adolescence
  • COVID-19
  • Loneliness
  • Mental health
  • Pandemic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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