Loneliness can be debilitating; it has been described previously as ‘the most terrible poverty’. This presentation will describe evidence-based approaches school staff can use to prevent or minimise the experience, severity and impact of loneliness on children and adolescents.


Teachers can feel uncertain about how best to assist students who appear lonely at school. Yet there is a general awareness that social isolation can generate much suffering for children and adolescents. This is supported by research which has identified that persistent loneliness is associated with depression, self-harm, recreational drug use, violence and adolescent suicidality. Specifically, this session will offer insights from children and adolescents about their experiences of loneliness, its impact on them and how the school community and its environment has helped (or hindered) them. Practices that promote or prevent the fostering of staff-student and student-student relationships, and how this impacts upon experiences of loneliness, will also be explored. This session will further present international research evidence about school policies, programs and practices related to loneliness in the school setting and how communication and cohesion can be developed and maintained. 


About Karen

Karen Martin is an Assistant Professor in the School of Population Health, University of Western Australia. Since 2003, Karen has completed a wide-range of mental and physical health research in primary and secondary schools.


With a passion for reducing the unnecessary suffering of children and adolescents, Karen’s recent research has focused on strategies to assist with reducing loneliness, psychological distress, antisocial behaviour and the impact of childhood trauma. She has a particular interest in promoting trauma-informed, restorative and compassionate school culture to improve student and staff mental wellbeing.


Underpinning all of her research is a strong commitment to ‘real world’ research. By disseminating research directly to practitioners, Karen assists schools and policy makers to align policy and practice with the most recent research evidence. This approach has resulted in regular invitations for her to present to national and international multi-disciplinary audiences, ongoing dialogue with other like-minded souls as well as international collaborations.