Attributions of Loneliness—Life Story Interviews with Older Mental Health Service Users

Annette Burns, Gerard Leavey, Brian Lawlor, Jeannette Golden, Dermot Reilly, Roger O’Sullivan

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There is growing evidence on the prevalence and impact of loneliness, particularly among older people. However, much less is known about the personal origins of loneliness and how it persists, or not, over an individual’s life course. This study aimed to increase understanding of the personal experiences of loneliness among older adults across the life course. Central to this study was giving voice to the participants and allowing them to define loneliness, what it meant to them, and how it affected them throughout their lives. This qualitative study employed 18 life story interviews with older adults attending a mental health service. We explored their personal experiences of loneliness and the situations and factors associated with loneliness across the life course. We identified three distinct typologies of loneliness: those who experienced (1) chronic loneliness since childhood, (2) chronic loneliness after a life-changing event in midlife, and (3) loneliness which remained situational/transitional, never becoming chronic. This study found the seeds of chronic life course loneliness are often determined in childhood. Early detection and intervention may prevent situational loneliness from becoming chronic. More research is needed from a life course approach to help understand and address the causes and consequences of loneliness.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1133
Number of pages1
Issue number11
Early online date31 May 2024
Publication statusPublished online - 31 May 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 by the authors.

Data Access Statement

Due to the sensitive nature of this research, the data collected in this study are not available beyond the research team.


  • loneliness
  • life ciourse
  • qualitative
  • life course


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