Background: Loneliness is a major public health concern among college and university students, the evidence is inconsistent regarding whether there is an increasing trend or not. Furthermore, knowledge of the demographic determinants for loneliness are limited. The present study assesses recent trends of loneliness from 2014 to 2018, and explores demographic risk indicators of loneliness among students.
Method: Data was drawn from two waves of a national student health survey from 2014 and 2018 for higher education in Norway (the SHoT-study). In 2018, all 162,512 fulltime students in Norway were invited to participate and 50,054 students (69.1% women) aged 18-35 years were included (response rate = 30.8%). Loneliness was measured by “The Three-Item Loneliness Scale” (T-ILS) and one item from the Hopkins Symptom Checklist-25 (HSCL-25).
Results: Age showed a curvilinear association with loneliness, with the youngest and oldest students reporting the highest level of loneliness across all measures. Other significant demographic determinants of loneliness were being female, single and living alone. There was a considerable increase in loneliness from 2014 (16.5%) to 2018 (23.6%, p < .001), and the increase was particularly strong for males, for whom the proportion of feeling “extremely” lonely had more than doubled.
Conclusion: The high rate of loneliness and the increasing trends indicate the need for preventive interventions in the student population.