Mental Health
4 minutes

What Is Loneliness? How To Identify and Address The Signs Of Loneliness In Teens

Medically Reviewed
Last Medically Reviewed on: August 31, 2023

Key Points

  • Symptoms of loneliness include acting out, having a small social circle, and a desire to always be with a parent or guardian.
  • True loneliness is an unfulfilled desire for greater levels of interaction and connection.
  • Teens with a history of mental health challenges or physical illness may be at increased risk of developing loneliness.
  • Help your lonely teen by asking them questions about how they feel and what they’re thinking. Always be available and open to talking. Verbally communicate that they are not alone.

What Are The Signs and Symptoms Of Loneliness?

Loneliness in teens can be mislabeled as other things, such as antisocial behavior, depression, or anxiety. Common symptoms of loneliness include a desire to be with their parents or guardian all the time, exhibiting negative behavior for attention, being easily distracted, and having a small social circle.

They may appear withdrawn or display moodiness. Their sleep habits may inexplicably change, and they may neglect personal hygiene or physical exercise. Regular eating habits may change, and they may experience drastic weight gain or weight loss.

Signs of teen loneliness could be related to bullying, feelings of anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, or hopelessness. In some serious cases, they may present signs of suicidal ideation.

Physical Symptoms of Loneliness

Loneliness can be a systemic experience that includes physical symptoms such as body aches, insomnia, and headaches. When your body is under stress, your cortisol levels increase, which can impair cognitive function and negatively impact your immune system. While these symptoms can be fleeting throughout a teen’s day-to-day life, if they are chronic, they could be related to symptoms of loneliness.

Loneliness Defined

Usually, we associate loneliness with being alone or having very few friends when we desire the opposite. However, it’s entirely possible for a teen to experience loneliness without ever being truly alone.

On the other end of the spectrum, someone who is frequently alone may never experience loneliness if the desire for more interaction isn’t there. The difference lies in the desires. True loneliness is an unfulfilled desire for greater levels of interaction and connection.

How Prevalent Is Loneliness In Teens?

One official study reported that over 11% of children and teens from ages 10 to 15 shared they often felt lonely, with nearly 9% being in the 13 to 15 years category. For teens over 16, nearly 10% reported the same feeling. Additionally, only 18% of teens aged 16 or older who lived in single-parent homes were more likely to report not feeling lonely vs. teens from a two-parent home (over 40%).[1]

What Are The Risks Factors For Developing Loneliness?

There are a number of potential risk factors that can increase a teen’s likelihood of developing severe loneliness. If the recent pandemic taught us anything, it’s that long periods of social isolation can lead to teen loneliness.

The condition of loneliness has also been associated with both poor mental health and poor physical health, and teens with a history of mental health struggles or serious physical illness may be at higher risk of developing loneliness.[2]

In an official study conducted about loneliness and mental health in children and adolescents with pre-existing mental health problems, it was discovered that for those with social phobias, social anxiety, depression, and neurodevelopmental conditions, the symptoms of loneliness were recognizable. This same study also found that psychological treatment for teens is effective in reducing feelings of loneliness.[3]

Other risk factors could include a long-distance move, changing schools, or a family breakup. These experiences can be challenging for anyone, especially already-vulnerable teens.

How To Help Lonely Teens

How To Help Lonely Teens

Whether it is the result of social anxiety, abuse, peer pressure, fear of judgment, bullying, or low self-esteem, loneliness can be a devastating experience for teens. Pay close attention to their habits and routines so that you’re better equipped to identify troubling changes.

Be open to speaking with your team and ask them lots of questions about their thoughts and feelings. Provide them with regular opportunities to open up and confide in you.

Verbally ensure that your teen knows they are not alone. They may not know how to communicate what they’re feeling or why. Let them know you see where they’re struggling and that you’re a resource for them.

Make a conscious effort to encourage them, even if it’s in small ways. Write them notes for their job or school day. Text them throughout the day and the week to let them know they’re on your mind and that you’re available to them.

Encourage your teen to disconnect from “doom scrolling” on social media or other online forums that could exacerbate their loneliness. Offer them other outlets for interaction and health engagement.

If the signs and symptoms of loneliness persist, talk with your teen about getting professional help. Mental health care for teens is an empowering experience that can help them identify, address, and overcome internal struggles to create a healthier, happier life.

Now is the time to solidify a strong foundation for a confident and successful future.

What To Look For In Mental Health Treatment For Teens

When considering pursuing mental health treatment for teens, it’s important to look for a few hallmarks of a strong treatment program. Treatment should be completely teen-focused and not pediatric or adult treatment that has been mildly adapted.

It should be comprised of individualized treatment plans that address the unique needs of each patient on a holistic level. It should include a variety of therapeutic modalities, from Motivational Interviewing (MI), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and group therapy, in addition to psychiatric interventions.

A well-rounded mental health treatment program for teens will also include strong academic support to ensure they don’t fall behind on their studies.

Can Loneliness Lead To Mental Health Challenges Like Teen Depression?

In a medical study conducted to understand the role of loneliness in depression better, it was determined that loneliness could be an indicator of future depression or major depressive disorder (MDD) and that, in many cases, lonely people anticipate a greater number of negative social interactions and the likelihood of rejection. Those in this category also show a lower natural reward response to positive engagement.[4]

Learn To Identify and Address The Symptoms of Loneliness In Your Teen

Always keep open lines of communication with your teen and attempt to have a firm grasp on their mental and emotional well-being. Continually but gently point lonely teens toward practical resources, professional help, and healthy lifestyle changes.

Frequently Asked Questions About The Symptoms Of Loneliness In Teens

A lonely teen may feel moody, fearful, anxious, unworthy, or depressed. Whether their loneliness stems from mental health challenges, a shrinking social circle, big life changes, or a lack of support at home, it may be difficult to identify or quantify or communicate these feelings.

When under stress, the cortisol levels in your brain react. This chemical response can impair your cognitive abilities and compromise the effectiveness of your immune system.

Physical symptoms of loneliness also include:

  • Body aches
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches

Unaddressed loneliness can wreak havoc on the thoughts and emotions of your teen. They may experience more stress and increased social anxiety. They may fall into unhealthy patterns of behavior and develop poor lifestyle habits. Studies also show that loneliness can be a contributing factor to developing a major depressive disorder.

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[1]Manclossi, D. S. or S. (2018, December 5). Office for National Statistics. Children’s and Young People’s experiences of loneliness: 2018. Children’s and young people’s experiences of loneliness. Retrieved from April 19, 2023

[2]Hards E;Loades ME;Higson-Sweeney N;Shafran R;Serafimova T;Brigden A;Reynolds S;Crawley E;Chatburn E;Linney C;McManus M;Borwick C; (n.d.). The British journal of clinical psychology. Loneliness and Mental Health in children and adolescents with pre-existing mental health problems: A Rapid Systematic Review. Retrieved from on April 19, 2023

[3]Hards E;Loades ME;Higson-Sweeney N;Shafran R;Serafimova T;Brigden A;Reynolds S;Crawley E;Chatburn E;Linney C;McManus M;Borwick C; (n.d.). The British journal of clinical psychology. Loneliness and Mental Health in children and adolescents with pre-existing mental health problems: A Rapid Systematic Review. Retrieved from on April 19, 2023

[4]VanWinkel, M., Wichers, M., Collip, D., Peeters, F., Myin-Germeys, I., Thiery, E., Derom, C., & Jacobs, N. (n.d.). Taylor & Francis. Psychiatry. Unraveling the role of loneliness in depression: The relationship between daily life experience and behavior. Retrieved from on April 19, 2023