Last year, I wrote a blog about the loneliness and social isolation epidemic. When discussing the blog with a colleague, she brought up the topic of parental loneliness, a topic I hadn’t yet researched in detail. It’s clear that in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and continuing afterwards, parents are facing significant loneliness. 

Parenting is hard. According to a 2022 Pew Research Center survey, parenting is a lot harder or somewhat harder than most parents of children under 18 expected. Although most parents believe that it is enjoyable and rewarding, some find it tiring and stressful. Despite most finding it enjoyable and rewarding, parents are struggling, and they are more lonely than nonparents, as noted by a 2021 Cigna study. According to the data, about 65% of parents and guardians are lonely, compared to 55% of nonparents. Parents and guardians also reported a strong sense of feeling left out. Forty-two percent reported always feeling this way. Additionally, when comparing loneliness between mothers and fathers, they found that mothers are more likely to be considered lonely (69% vs. 62% for fathers). Lastly, they found that single parents are particularly likely to suffer from loneliness, as more than 77% of single parents were classified as lonely. 

With so many parents suffering, health care providers need effective solutions to support their patients’ health. This is especially pressing given the evidence around the impact of poor social connections on health, such as increased heart disease, stroke, anxiety, depression, and respiratory illnesses. There may be a role for providers to help parents alleviate their loneliness through social prescribing, and in turn, improve their patients’ health.

Social prescribing could be a solution for addressing parental loneliness 

Social prescribing is the approach of health professionals “prescribing” or referring people to local group or community activities to address their nonmedical, health-related needs. A recent study conducted in the UK shows social prescribing can benefit both parents and children. 

In the study, parents were referred by health workers or self-referred to participate in a five-week arts-based play program. The program incorporated elements of play education and was aimed at children up to age 2.5 years. The program included sensory and imaginary play installations, various play stations with age-appropriate toys, books, and sensory activities, and a more structured  session where the children could sing and play. There was also an “independent creative play” portion of the program, when the children played with one another.  During this period their parents were offered a hot drink. Every session ended with soft live music played on the flute and ukulele, lights, bubbles, lullabies and a goodbye song, says a blog on the University of Leeds’ website describing the program. At the end of the five weeks, the study found that through shared experiences and a practitioner-led approach, parents reduced loneliness, relieved stress, and created interpersonal relationships. 

So how can social prescribing benefit parents? Likely because it can help serve parents’ desires for progress in a specific life circumstance. Frequent readers will recognize this as a Job to Be Done. Each day “jobs” arise in our lives, and we “hire” products or services to accomplish these jobs. Understanding an individual’s job is powerful because it enables innovators to develop a product or service that aligns with what someone is already trying to accomplish. This is part of Jobs Theory, a framework that helps explain the causal drivers of behavior, developed by Clayton Christensen and Bob Moesta. 

Part of why the program was successful in benefiting parents is likely because it addressed their specific desires for progress. For example, some of these potential desires for progress could be as follows:

  • Help me build social networks, so I can have a reliable support system in difficult times;
  • Help me meet parents going through the same thing as me, so I can feel less lonely and understood by others; and
  • Help me find an outing to attend with my child, so I can be around adults and my child can play with other children at the same time. 

There are many issues plaguing parents today, and many negatively impact health outcomes. As a result, health care providers seeking to help parents may want to consider adding social prescribing to their toolkit of solutions. It can be another offering to help alleviate parental loneliness, and interaction with others could be just what parents need.


  • Emmanuelle Verdieu
    Emmanuelle Verdieu

    My research looks into the role of business model innovation in child well-being, including how to transform the child welfare system into a child well-being system. Also, I’m interested in research regarding disruption in health care; specifically, evaluating pathways to improve it using the theories created and co-created by Clayton Christensen.