It is often suggested that loneliness and depression are distinct, but partly overlapping constructs. More specifically, even though loneliness and depression are highly correlated, they are differentially related to other constructs, such as personality and suicidal ideation, have different developmental trajectories and have different presumed gender differences. Yet, it remains unclear whether and how loneliness and depression are coupled within individuals or whether one might experience either loneliness or depression. The current study examined whether loneliness and depression clusters could be identified in adolescents and whether these patterns were differentially related to friendship experiences and well-being. In order to check the robustness of the identified clusters, we used two samples to conduct the cluster analysis on.
In two samples, 417 and 1,140 adolescents (48.40% and 48.68% male, respectively) reported on loneliness and depression. On average the adolescents, in the respective samples, were 12.47 (SD = 1.89) and 12.81 (SD = 0.42) years old. In Sample 2, participants also completed measures of happiness, self-esteem, friendship quantity and quality.
Cluster analysis revealed four clusters. In the first cluster (70.74% and 78.51%) adolescents scored low on both the loneliness and depression (common cluster). The second cluster (15.59% and 4.82%) consisted of adolescents who scored high on depression, but relatively low on loneliness (predominantly depressed cluster). Adolescents in the third cluster (13.07 and 9.11%) scored high on loneliness, but scored relatively low on depression (predominantly lonely cluster). Adolescents in the fourth cluster (4.56% and 3.60%) scored high on both the loneliness and depression measures (co-occurrence cluster). Adolescents in the common cluster had the highest friendship quality, happiness, and self-esteem scores. Adolescents in de predominantly depressed cluster experienced low happiness and self-esteem, but they did not have lower friendship quantity or quality in comparison to the common cluster. Adolescents in the predominantly lonely cluster had lower friendship quantity and quality as well as lower self-esteem compared to the common cluster. Adolescents in the co-occurrence cluster had the lowest friendship quantity and quality as well as lowest happiness and self-esteem in comparison to all other clusters.
Our findings suggest that loneliness and depression present themselves, more often than not, independently of each other within individuals. However, if adolescents are high on loneliness and depression, they have the lowest adjustment. The current study stresses the importance of assessing both loneliness and depressive symptoms, as their mutual relation within individuals is differentially related to other constructs of adjustment.
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