One in four adults – 24% – in the UK have felt lonely because of Coronavirus, according to a study, involving the University of Strathclyde, which is tracking mental health across the pandemic.
The most affected group were young people aged 18-24 years, with more than four in ten (44%) saying they felt lonely. The next most affected group were adults aged 25 – 34, with more than one third (35%) saying they had felt loneliness as a result of Coronavirus.
One in six older people aged over 55 said they had felt lonely as a result of the pandemic.
The survey data, from 2,221 UK adults aged 18 and over, were collected as part of a major UK-wide longitudinal research project called Coronavirus: Mental Health and the Pandemic. The online survey was carried out on 2- 3 April and asked people whether they had felt loneliness in the “previous two weeks”.
The UK-wide project is being led by the Mental Health Foundation in partnership with Strathclyde, the University of Cambridge, Swansea University and Queen’s University Belfast.
Professor Alec Morton, Head of Strathclyde’s Department of Management Science and the University’s lead adviser on the project, said: “This study adds another dimension to our understanding of how the pandemic is tearing at our social fabric. We now know that the viral epidemic is accompanied by a secondary epidemic of loneliness.
“This research is a call not only to government and policy makers, but also to everyone in society, to support those in their family, neighbourhood and social circle.”
Lee Knifton, Mental Health Foundation Scotland Director and Co-Director of Strathclyde's Centre for Health Policy, said: “Our data reveals that hundreds of thousands of people across Scotland are experiencing feelings of loneliness – which is a key risk factor for developing or worsening mental health problems.”
“The concern is that the longer the pandemic goes on for, the more feelings become long-term. The impact of long-term loneliness on mental health can be very hard to manage.
“That’s why we’re urging people to reach out to friends and family of all ages, particularly older and more vulnerable people at risk of isolation – and think about what steps we can take to help them stay connected.
“While the initial priority must be to prevent loss of life, we fear that we may be living with the mental health impacts of the coronavirus situation for many years to come. This is especially true of vulnerable groups and it is critical that governments and others are mindful of this in developing policy as we go forward.”
The research also revealed a major surge in feelings of loneliness, which more than doubled across the lockdown period.
When the researchers carried out the first round of the survey in March, shortly before lockdown started, 10% of UK adults said they had felt lonely; this figure rose to 24% of all UK adults by the beginning of April.
Similarly, shortly before lockdown, 16% of young people aged 18-24 said they had felt loneliness because of coronavirus. This figure rose to 44% after lockdown had been in force for almost two weeks.
The Coronavirus: Mental Health and the Pandemic research project is carrying out ongoing analysis of the data, which cover approximately 20 topics including the unequal impact on the mental health of at-risk groups, the key drivers of risk to mental health and how people in the UK are coping.