Reconceptualising men's loneliness: An interpretivist interview study of UK-based men

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Loneliness has been extensively linked to negative physical and mental health outcomes. Often defined as a subjective emotion, the influence of sex and gender has regularly been cited as vital to understanding individuals' experiences. Despite this, little research has explored men's perspectives of loneliness using interpretivist approaches. This study addresses this by exploring how gender influences men's constructions and experiences of loneliness in an interview study with a diverse sample of 20 UK-based men. Theoretical thematic analysis led to the generation of a novel conceptualisation of loneliness comprising four interconnected themes: socially negotiated self-worth (an intersubjectively defined mental state); being positively occupied (a mental state of meaningful focus/action); social connections (vital for consistently achieving these mental states); and capacity to form social connections. A second ‘layer’ in the findings describes how cultural norms of masculinity impacted loneliness defined in this way. Notions of invulnerability and social comparison could render it more difficult for men to form intimate and supportive connections or seek help for loneliness. However, as they were normative, they could also promote self-worth, and facilitate social connections, despite these negative effects. Similarly, masculine roles, in particular family roles, represented a normative framework for preventing loneliness, and could be both beneficial or problematic depending on other aspects of life, identity, or needs. The study offers insight into how men negotiate loneliness within a habitus incorporating multiple and varied gendered norms, values, and structures. Policy and practice interventions could usefully consider and mitigate the risks posed by non-conformity, aim to promote mental states of self-worth and positive occupation, and work to deconstruct masculine norms and values where appropriate.

Original languageEnglish
Article number116129
Number of pages8
JournalSocial Science & Medicine
Early online date31 Jul 2023
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2023

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