Experiences and meaning of loneliness beyond age and group identity

Melina Malli*, Sara Ryan, Jane Ridley Maddison, Kalpa Kharicha

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Research into loneliness has focussed on subpopulations, and in particular those defined by age, identifying specific contextual factors contributing to their experiences. We suggest that the ‘essence’ of loneliness cannot be fully captured by examining a unitary group and argue for broader and diverse sampling to better understand how loneliness is experienced. Informed by a symbolic interactionist approach, this study aims to elucidate experiences and meaning of loneliness among a heterogeneous group of adults. In depth interviews were conducted with a diverse sample of 37 individuals, aged 18–71 years who had experienced loneliness in the UK. Using thematic analysis, four themes were identified: Loneliness as lacking, loneliness as abandonment, lingering loneliness and the unspoken and trivialised experience of loneliness. Our analysis signals the complexity of loneliness did not necessarily conform to one-dimensional conceptualisations of the phenomenon. Loneliness is linked to interpersonal relationships, but also associated with participants’ roles and identity within society. Thus, society exacerbates and creates loneliness. Implications for the support and provision of loneliness are also discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)79-89
Number of pages20
JournalSociology of Health and Illness
Issue number1
Early online date8 Sept 2022
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jan 2023

Bibliographical note

© 2022 The Authors.


  • loneliness
  • Qualitative research
  • symbolic interactionism

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