Principle Investigator Prof Jennifer Lau and Research Associates Dr Laura Riddleston (Queen Mary University of London) and Dr Lily Verity (University of Manchester) explain the initial findings of their research project: the Youth Loneliness Scale (YLS).
Lily Verity will be presenting at the Campaign to End Loneliness conference on Thursday 8 February for our session ‘Young people and loneliness: What are the drivers of youth loneliness and how can we address it?’
What does loneliness mean to young people?
The Youth Loneliness Scale (YLS) is a project which aims to create a new questionnaire to measure loneliness, specifically designed to be used by adolescents and young adults. Young people are involved in each stage of the development process. The first stage of creating a new measure – especially one that reflects the authentic experiences of the targeted audience – is to generate relevant statements that can be used. To do this, our team, which is made up of researchers at the University of Manchester and Queen Mary University of London, ran some workshops and focus groups, inviting young people to describe their loneliness experiences. From this content, we then created statements that could be used in a measure.
Artistic workshops and focus groups
What springs to mind when you think about loneliness? What might a scenario look like where someone is experiencing loneliness? How would you describe what loneliness feels, tastes, smells like? These are some of the questions that we explored with young people (8 – 24 years) in Manchester and London through a series of creative workshops and focus groups throughout 2023. We know that people express themselves differently so focus groups were used to explore loneliness through discussions, whilst creative workshops included more visual and dramatic activities.
- Similar to other research on this topic, loneliness was seen as a feeling of isolation from those around you, not feeling like you have anyone to talk to or support you. It involved feelings like sadness, anger and boredom. It was something that could be experienced for a short period but if it wasn’t dealt with it may become more long-term.
- Young people talked about how their thoughts were involved in loneliness – when feeling lonely, thoughts seemed louder, and they did not like to be alone where they could get caught up in negative thinking.
- Young people talked about how important it is to feel included, understood and valued by friends. It was not simply about being there but being involved. Young people talked about feeling lonely when it seemed as if their friends liked each other more than them. For example, young people at primary school talked about being given a rubbish role in a game by friends; those who were older talked about not being included in conversations or plans outside of school.
- Loneliness was said to involve feeling self-conscious, and judging one’s own behaviour, mood, or abilities particularly in relation to socialising.
- There was often fear around being seen to be lonely and opening up to others. Despite that, young people believed that loneliness was experienced by everyone at some point and encouraged open communication between friends.
How will these findings be included in the Youth Loneliness Scale?
We developed a series of statements that reflect what young people told us were involved in their experiences of loneliness. Statements were developed directly from young people’s words, and then edited into a format that meant they could be included in the scale. For example, a participant could say “I feel lonely when my friends don’t understand where I’m coming from” and that might be edited into a statement such as “I feel like people don’t understand me”.
The next stage of the project will be to present the finalised list of statements to a panel of “experts” to rate in terms of how relevant they are to the experience of loneliness in young people. This is known as a ‘Delphi’ study. We will be looking to involve both academic experts and young person experts by experience. If this is something that appeals to you, please keep an eye out for further information coming soon!
We express our gratitude to People’s Palace Projects, The McPin Foundation, and Future Leaders for their invaluable support in implementing the project. Additionally, we extend our thanks to all participants and facilitators of the creative workshops and focus groups, including the students and staff from our collaborating schools.