Almost a quarter of adults living under lockdown in the UK have felt loneliness, raising concern about the long-term risk to mental health:
- Almost one quarter (24%) of UK adults have felt loneliness because of COVID-19
- More than four in ten (44%) of young people (aged 18 to 24 years) have felt loneliness
- Feelings of loneliness have more than doubled over the lockdown period
- Charity warns about the long-term risk to the mental health of loneliness
- Physical safety is the priority, but mental health impacts must be part of policy development
One in four adults (24%) in the UK has felt lonely because of COVID-19, according to a longitudinal study which is tracking mental health across the pandemic.
The most affected group were young people (aged 18 to 24 years) – with more than four in ten (44%) saying they felt lonely, according to the research study.
The next most affected group were adults aged 25 to 34, with more than one-third (35%) saying they had felt loneliness due to COVID-19.
One in six older people aged over 55 said they had felt lonely as a result of COVID-19, according to the study.
The survey data from 2221 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 survey was carried out from 2 to 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 the University of Cambridge, Swansea University, University of Strathclyde and Queen’s University Belfast.
The charity intends to track changes in the UK’s mental health in real-time and target issues as they emerge. We have also released advice on tackling loneliness.
Dr Antonis Kousoulis, Director at the Mental Health Foundation: “Our data reveal that millions of people in the UK 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, the more feelings become long-term. The impact of long-term loneliness on mental health can be very hard to manage.
“While the initial priority must be to prevent loss of life, we fear that we may live with the mental health impacts of the COVID-19 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 the 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 to 24 said they had felt loneliness because of COVID-19
- This figure rose to 44% of young people after the lockdown had been in force for almost two weeks
Prof Tine Van Bortel of the University of Cambridge said: “It might feel surprising but what our research shows is that the group most likely to be experiencing these feelings are young people.
"It is worrying that close to half of them said they are concerned about feeling lonely, and special attention should be given to this as we know that young people are at higher risk of self-harm and suicide. However, we shouldn’t forget that loneliness is also clearly affecting very large numbers of people of all ages. Loneliness is a major problem and has the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, making it even more dangerous than obesity."
The Coronavirus: Mental Health and the Pandemic research project is carrying out an ongoing analysis of the data, which covers approximately twenty 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. Qualitative data will be added via a Citizen’s Jury, and regular detailed briefings will be produced.
All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.
For the latest wave of data-gathering, the total sample size was 2221 UK adults aged 18+. Fieldwork to gather the new data was undertaken between 2 to 3 April 2020. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and represent all UK adults (aged 18+).
The previous wave of data-gathering was as follows: Total sample size was 2126 UK adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 17 to 18 March 2020. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and represent all UK adults (aged 18+).
Notes for Editors
Graphics showing these data are available on request.
Available for interview on request:
- Wales – Ann John Professor of Public Health and Psychiatry, Swansea University
- England – Professor Tine Van Bortel Institute of Public Health, University of Cambridge.
The Mental Health Foundation is leading and sponsoring this four-nation study.
We will lead a longitudinal study (4 to 6 months) using a method of repeated cross-sectional surveys via YouGov. Survey participants are different on each sampling occasion but taken from the same pool and representative of the UK. The survey will cover approximately 20 topics, including the effect on mental health and the key risk drivers.
The lead academic partner will be the Institute for Public Health at Cambridge University (offering opportunities for Ethics Committee approval and publication as peer-reviewed research); additional academic partners include Swansea University, Strathclyde University and Queens University Belfast.
We will add a Citizens Jury to contribute via the gathering of qualitative information, narrative personal stories, and comments on our data.
We will be producing regular briefings. The data can also be used to inform policy action. We welcome thoughts on briefing topics that would be interesting and important to inform action.
All calculations about the number of people affected were carried out by the Mental Health Foundation.
The Mental Health Foundation: Our vision is for good mental health for all. The Mental Health Foundation works to prevent mental health problems. We will drive change towards a mentally healthy society for all and support communities, families and individuals to lead mentally healthy lives with a particular focus on those at greatest risk. The Foundation is the home of Mental Health Awareness Week.
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