Research on loneliness and friendships is lacking

Linda Gilmore, PhD
Queensland University of Technology, Australia

Loneliness has been linked to physical illness and mental health problems in the general population. People with intellectual disabilities (ID) tend to experience more of these problems, and it is possible that loneliness is a contributing factor.

What did you do in your research?
We reviewed research about friendships and loneliness for children and adults with ID, and developed a theoretical model to explain their increased vulnerability to loneliness.

What did you find out?
Research around loneliness and friendships experienced by individuals with ID is lacking. Although there has not been a great deal of research, the occurrence of loneliness seems to be much higher for people with ID compared to the general population. We believe that people with ID are more vulnerable to loneliness because negative social attitudes and low expectations often limit their opportunities to experience social and emotional connections with others. The difficulties that people with ID have in areas such as communication can make it more difficult for them to develop satisfying personal relationships. Furthermore, experiences of loneliness may interact with or affect the cognitive, physical, and mental health issues, which are already associated with ID.

What are the take-home messages?
Loneliness may be contributing to physical and mental health problems for people with ID. Although it is important to support the development of good communication and social skills, we also need to address the attitudes and values of communities so that people with ID have the opportunity to experience more satisfying personal relationships.

To learn more about these findings contact Linda Gilmore.

Full Journal Article
Gilmore, L., & Cuskelly, M. (2014). Vulnerability to Loneliness in People with Intellectual Disability: An Explanatory Model. Journal of Policy and Practice in Intellectual Disabilities, 11(3), 192–199.