The Link Between Loneliness and the Psychotic Spectrum

Loneliness can have a devastating effect on the average person. So, how does it affect people with psychosis? Find out here.
The Link Between Loneliness and the Psychotic Spectrum
Gorka Jiménez Pajares

Written and verified by the psychologist Gorka Jiménez Pajares.

Last update: 27 April, 2023

Unwanted loneliness can leave us without hope. Those on the psychotic spectrum are even more susceptible to experiencing it. In fact, for these individuals, its effects can be heartbreaking.

Loneliness usually signifies isolation. It’s like a cruel pair of scissors that cuts the threads that connect us with other people, depriving us of everything that a solid circle of support can provide.

“Imposed solitude is the prison of the mind.”

-Stephen King-

Unwanted solitude

Gabriel García Márquez said that “solitude, when unwanted, poisons the heart.” This could well be true. Indeed, loneliness is a public health problem in a good part of the planet, especially in the more developed countries. Moreover, despite its seriousness, it’s often ignored.

The effects of loneliness on the body and mind are disastrous (Luo et al., 2012). For instance, sufferers are more likely to experience depression, die prematurely, or develop symptoms on the psychotic spectrum.

As we mentioned earlier, individuals with psychotic disorders experience loneliness more severely. This is due to the fact that they often exhibit impoverished social structures because their social networks are ephemeral and scarce or even non-existent.

In fact, this is the bleak landscape that people on the psychotic spectrum (at least one percent of the world’s population) face on a daily basis. Evidence suggests that eight out of ten patients report this emotion (Lim et al., 2017). It’s a suffocating and desolate experience.

“Unwanted loneliness is an endless desert.”

-Pearl S. Buck-

Woman on swing during sunset
Having a psychotic disorder increases the effects of loneliness.

Social defeat

The social defeat hypothesis posits that social difficulties are a risk factor for people on the psychotic spectrum (Hawkley et al., 2010). Experts have also found associations between loneliness and the following elements (Lim et al., 2018):

  • Paranoia.
  • Negative symptoms.
  • Negative beliefs about the world.

“Loneliness is the loudest cry anyone can hear.”

-August Strindberg-

In the context of psychosis, feeling lonely is often related to positive symptoms. For example, hallucinations and delusions.  Researchers have studied the social media contacts (mainly family and friends) of these people. The results are quite sad.

It seems that individuals with psychosis who habitually and savagely experience loneliness, are likely to have friends who are also lonely. This suggests that loneliness is a ‘sticky’ emotion that attracts, like a magnet, other people who are its captives.

According to induction theory, loneliness acts as a ‘black hole’. It influences the level of loneliness of the individuals with whom the sufferer interacts, feeding back this emotion and increasing it (Cacciopo et al., 2009).

“Loneliness has been linked to the development of psychotic experiences.”

-Anson KC Chau-

The impact of loneliness on the psychotic spectrum

In the psychotic context, the consequences of this devastating emotion are reproduced exponentially. In fact, there are many studies that have investigated this link. Today, we’re going to focus on a study conducted by Dr. Michelle H. Lim (2018). She states that:

  • Loneliness is closely related to auditory hallucinations.
  • It produces stigma. Patients report feeling less socially supported. Thus, they’re often perceived as incompetent.
  • They feel extremely dissatisfied with life. This is due to the fact that they’re suffering psychotic symptoms as well as the hopelessness of loneliness.
  • They frequently attend the hospital. Indeed, if they have little or no social network, they might think that the only resource left for them is to be cared for by health professionals.
  • Loneliness multiplies the risk of suffering from a cocktail of clinical entities. For instance, depression and suicidal behaviors.
  • When a sufferer perceives and knows that they have support and extensive networks of friends, their levels of well-being increase. Therefore, interventions focused on promoting the social universe of sufferers could prove interesting.
  • As long as sufferers continue to experience high levels of loneliness, they’re unlikely to get better. Recovery is linked to large support networks. They have the potential to lessen an individual’s perception of loneliness.

“Unsought loneliness is the greatest of all cruelties.”

-Ellen Glasgow-

Worried man sitting on the floor next to a large window with white curtains
Promoting extensive networks of friends is a favorable resource against loneliness, especially in those affected by a disorder.

Loneliness, anxiety, and the psychotic spectrum

In addition to the aforementioned depressive symptoms, there are more links. As a matter of fact, loneliness can be a vehicle that leads the sufferer of psychosis to experience high levels of anxiety. In turn, this is linked to paranoid delusions.

As we mentioned earlier, the effects of loneliness can be heartbreaking. As a matter of fact, they can even be devastating for individuals who aren’t on the spectrum. However, their pernicious effects multiply rapidly in those who are.

From society’s perspective, we must review the stigma given to sufferers.  Mental health professionals can help them via interventions that promote the generation of broad, rich, and functional social networks. In fact, these can put the brakes on loneliness and prevent it from intensifying and tormenting them.

“Loneliness is the cruelest company when you don’t want it.”

-Lord Byron-

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Anson K. C. Chau, Chen Zhu & Suzanne Ho-Wai So (2019) Loneliness and the psychosis continuum: a meta-analysis on positive psychotic experiences and a meta-analysis on negative psychotic experiences, International Review of Psychiatry, 31:5-6, 471-490, DOI: 10.1080/09540261.2019.1636005
  • Cacioppo JT, Fowler JH, Christakis NA (2009) Solo en la multitud: la estructura y propagación de la soledad en una gran red social. J Pers Soc Psychol 97:977–991.
  • Hawkley, L. C., & Cacioppo, J. T. (2010). Loneliness matters: A theoretical and empirical review of consequences and mechanisms. Annals of behavioral medicine, 40(2), 218-227.
  • Lim, M. H., Gleeson, J. F., Alvarez-Jimenez, M., & Penn, D. L. (2018). Loneliness in psychosis: a systematic review. Social psychiatry and psychiatric epidemiology, 53, 221-238.
  • Luo, Y., Hawkley, L. C., Waite, L. J., & Cacioppo, J. T. (2012). Loneliness, health, and mortality in old age: a national longitudinal study. Social science & medicine (1982)74(6), 907–914.
  • Michalska da Rocha, B., Rhodes, S., Vasilopoulou, E., & Hutton, P. (2018). Loneliness in psychosis: a meta-analytical review. Schizophrenia bulletin, 44(1), 114-125.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.