A mobile app to ease loneliness

Tuesday 7 July 2015

The east side of the Advanced Manufacturing and Design Centre building captured during a sunset.

Swinburne researchers are developing a smartphone app and an intervention program designed to reduce loneliness, based on growing evidence that loneliness can be harmful to one’s mental and physical health.

Clinical psychologist and lead researcher Dr Michelle Lim, from Swinburne University of Technology’s Brain and Psychological Sciences Research Centre, said that the app and intervention program aim to promote the use of positive emotions within existing relationships.

“The app is a six-week intervention program designed to encourage people to improve the quality of their relationships within their social circle,” Dr Lim said.

“It focuses on building social confidence in people who are lonely through the use of social interaction videos.”

According to Dr Lim, individuals who are lonely have the social skills to relate to others but they may have lost their confidence or perhaps fail to recognise the importance of reaching out to others.

“You could have hundreds of friends on Facebook but still feel lonely. Loneliness is not about quantity of friends, it’s about how connected you feel to the people around you,” Dr Lim said.

“It relates more to the quality of those relationships so that’s what we’re focusing on.”

From an evolutionary perspective, loneliness may be a warning sign of a threat to our survival.

“Humans are social beings and we have a fundamental need to belong,” Dr Lim said.

The treatment program will be delivered in multiple ways, including web, mobile and face-to-face group therapy.

“We are currently testing the treatment program in two groups: university students who report high levels of loneliness and people who have been diagnosed with a serious mental disorder” Dr Lim said.

As part of developing the treatment program, the research team also wants to hear about positive stories of people who manage to break out of the vicious cycle of loneliness.

The team expects that by sharing these journeys within the program, people can regain their social confidence and be more hopeful in rebuilding or developing their relationships.

The app and intervention program are due for completion at the end of the year.

If you are interested in sharing your experience, you can contact Dr Lim directly via email: mlim@swin.edu.au or by phone: 03 9214 4868