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Quality not quantity: loneliness subtypes, psychological trauma, and mental health in the US adult population


Joanna McHugh Power

Philip Hyland

Mark Shevlin

Marylene Cloitre

Gráinne McGinty

Robert Fox

Joanna Mchugh Power


Purpose: Loneliness is a recognised public-health concern that is traditionally regarded as a unidimensional construct. Theories of loneliness predict the existence of subtypes of loneliness. In this study, latent class analysis (LCA) was used to test for the presence of loneliness subtypes and to examine their association with multiple mental health variables.
Methods: A nationally representative sample of US adults (N = 1,839) completed the De Jong Gierveld Loneliness Scale, along with self-report measures of childhood and adulthood trauma, psychological wellbeing, major depression, and generalized anxiety.
Results: When treated as a unidimensional construct, 17.1% of US adults aged 18-70 were classified as lonely. However, the LCA results identified four loneliness classes which varied quantitatively and qualitatively: ‘low’ (52.8%), ‘social’ (8.2%), ‘emotional’ (26.6%), and ‘social and emotional’ (12.4%) loneliness. The ‘social and emotional’ class were characterised by the highest levels of psychological distress, followed by the ‘emotional’ class. The ‘social’ loneliness class had similar mental health scores as the ‘low’ loneliness class. Childhood and adulthood trauma were independently related to the most distressed loneliness classes.
Conclusions: Current findings provide support for the presence of subtypes of loneliness and show that they have unique associations with mental health status. Recognition of these subtypes of loneliness revealed that the number of US adults aged 18-70 experiencing loneliness was twice as high as what was estimated when loneliness was conceptualized as a unidimensional construct. The perceived quality, not the quantity, of interpersonal connections was associated with poor mental health.


Power, J. M., Hyland, P., Shevlin, M., Cloitre, M., Karatzias, T., Vallières, F., …Mchugh Power, J. (2019). Quality not quantity: loneliness subtypes, psychological trauma, and mental health in the US adult population. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 54(9), 1089-1099.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Sep 18, 2018
Online Publication Date Oct 6, 2018
Publication Date 2019-09
Deposit Date Sep 19, 2018
Publicly Available Date Oct 6, 2018
Journal Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology
Print ISSN 0933-7954
Electronic ISSN 1433-9285
Publisher BMC
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 54
Issue 9
Pages 1089-1099
Keywords Epidemiology; Health(social science); Psychiatry and Mental health; Social Psychology
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Quality not quantity: Loneliness subtypes, psychological trauma... (223 Kb)

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This is a post-peer-review, pre-copy edit version of an article to be published in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology. The final authenticated version is available online at:

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