The Loss: Conceptualising Biographical Experiences of Disability, Social Isolation and Emotional Loneliness in North-East England


  • Lesley Deacon University of Sunderland
  • Stephen J. Macdonald University of Sunderland
  • Jacqueline Nixon City of Sunderland
  • Abisope Rhoda Akintola City of Sunderland
  • Samouka Dore City of Sunderland
  • Gillian Ellis City of Sunderland
  • Anna Gillingham
  • Liz Highmore City of Sunderland
  • Abolaji Ismail City of Sunderland
  • Jacqueline Kent
  • Debbie Matthews City of Sunderland
  • Sylvia Sullivan City of Sunderland



Research into experiences of social isolation and loneliness has predominantly focused on older adults, i.e. post-retirement, as a significant at-risk group. Similarly, research exploring disability and loneliness has been associated with old age and conceptualised as an inevitable outcome of ‘failing’ health. This study seeks to conceptualise experiences of disability from a wider age group to understand if occurrences of social isolation and loneliness are commonplace. Fifteen qualitative biographical narrative interviews were completed by a Community Research Team, including seven males and eight females aged 32–89. A Disability Studies approach was applied to identify significant pathways from isolation into emotional loneliness, experienced by participants; fourteen of whom were affected by disability issues. Key risk factors were identified relating to disabled participants’ experiences of ‘loss’. Loss was associated with ‘loss of ability’, ‘loss due to bereavement’, ‘loss of social connectivity’ and ‘loss of self-confidence’. Participants connected life events concerning loss with spending time alone, leading to feelings of emotional loneliness. The findings illustrate key risk factors in being alone during evenings and weekends, periods where disabled participants were most likely to experience subjective feelings of emotional loneliness. (NOTE: The views expressed in this article are those of the authors not necessarily those of their employing agencies.)

Author Biographies

Lesley Deacon, University of Sunderland

Senior Lecturer Applied Social Studies/Social Work

Stephen J. Macdonald, University of Sunderland

Professor of Social Science

Jacqueline Nixon, City of Sunderland

Health Promotion Lead

Anna Gillingham

City of Sunderland

Liz Highmore, City of Sunderland

City of Sunderland

Jacqueline Kent

City of Sunderland

Sylvia Sullivan, City of Sunderland

City of Sunderland


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How to Cite

Deacon, L., Macdonald, S. J., Nixon, J., Akintola, A. R., Dore, S., Ellis, G., Gillingham, A., Highmore, L., Ismail, A., Kent, J., Matthews, D., & Sullivan, S. (2019). The Loss: Conceptualising Biographical Experiences of Disability, Social Isolation and Emotional Loneliness in North-East England. Social Work and Social Sciences Review, 20(3), 68-87.