European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

, Volume 19, Issue 6, pp 493–501 | Cite as

Childhood loneliness as a predictor of adolescent depressive symptoms: an 8-year longitudinal study

  • Pamela QualterEmail author
  • Stephen L. Brown
  • Penny Munn
  • Ken J. Rotenberg
Original Contribution


Childhood loneliness is characterised by children’s perceived dissatisfaction with aspects of their social relationships. This 8-year prospective study investigates whether loneliness in childhood predicts depressive symptoms in adolescence, controlling for early childhood indicators of emotional problems and a sociometric measure of peer social preference. 296 children were tested in the infant years of primary school (T1 5 years of age), in the upper primary school (T2 9 years of age) and in secondary school (T3 13 years of age). At T1, children completed the loneliness assessment and sociometric interview. Their teachers completed externalisation and internalisation rating scales for each child. At T2, children completed a loneliness assessment, a measure of depressive symptoms, and the sociometric interview. At T3, children completed the depressive symptom assessment. An SEM analysis showed that depressive symptoms in early adolescence (age 13) were predicted by reports of depressive symptoms at age 8, which were themselves predicted by internalisation in the infant school (5 years). The interactive effect of loneliness at 5 and 9, indicative of prolonged loneliness in childhood, also predicted depressive symptoms at age 13. Parent and peer-related loneliness at age 5 and 9, peer acceptance variables, and duration of parent loneliness did not predict depression. Our results suggest that enduring peer-related loneliness during childhood constitutes an interpersonal stressor that predisposes children to adolescent depressive symptoms. Possible mediators are discussed.


Loneliness Depression Depressive symptoms Longitudinal study Adolescence Transient loneliness Enduring loneliness Chronic loneliness Stability of loneliness Children 



Thanks are extended to Anna Kearney and Peter Fleming for assisting with data collection and input. Thanks also to Lancashire County Council for their help in tracking the children and forwarding consent forms to parents. Also, many thanks to the teachers and children who took part in the study. In addition, we would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers for their comments and recommendations.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Pamela Qualter
    • 1
    Email author
  • Stephen L. Brown
    • 2
  • Penny Munn
    • 3
  • Ken J. Rotenberg
    • 4
  1. 1.School of PsychologyUniversity of Central LancashirePrestonUK
  2. 2.School of Dental SciencesUniversity of LiverpoolLiverpoolUK
  3. 3.Department of Primary EducationUniversity of StrathclydeGlasgowUK
  4. 4.School of PsychologyKeele UniversityKeeleUK

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