Hundreds of thousands of adults in Scotland experience loneliness that negatively affects their mental health

9th May 2022
Mental Health Awareness Week
Prevention
Influencing policies

Hundreds of thousands of adults in Scotland experience loneliness that negatively impacts our mental health, but many are unable to talk about it

New research data from 1000 adults in Scotland

  • A quarter of adults in Scotland (25%) felt lonely some or all of the time over the previous month
  • More than one-quarter of adults in Scotland (27%) agree/strongly agree that they feel ashamed about being lonely
  • More than one-third of adults in Scotland (39%) say they would never admit to feeling lonely
  • Almost one-third of adults in Scotland (31%) said feelings of loneliness have had a negative impact on mental health
  • More than half of adults in Scotland (51%) hide their feelings of loneliness from other people
  • One in three adults in Scotland (29%) said feelings of loneliness made them feel worried or anxious
  • One in seven adults in Scotland (14%) said feelings of loneliness have led to suicidal thoughts and feelings

High rates of loneliness are impacting the mental health of people in Scotland, but many feel ashamed or unable to talk about it according to new research released today by Mental Health Foundation (MHF) for Mental Health Awareness Week.

In a survey of 1,000 adults in Scotland commissioned by the charity, a quarter of people (25%) say they felt lonely some or all of the time in the previous month.  Almost one third (31%) said feelings of loneliness had a negative impact on their mental health yet more than half (51%) would hide their feelings of loneliness from other people.

The results suggest that hundreds of thousands of people’s mental health are harmed by loneliness, yet more than one third (39%) of those surveyed say they would never admit to being lonely, and 27 per cent say they felt ashamed about being lonely.

MHF has led Mental Health Awareness Week across the UK for the last 22 years. This year’s theme is ‘loneliness’, chosen because loneliness can damage mental health and feelings of loneliness surged during the lockdowns. A new report exploring the issue, All the Lonely People: Exploring the Hidden Realities of Loneliness and Mental Health, is also published today.

Loneliness is not about the number of friends we have, how much time we spend on our own, or something which happens when we reach a certain age. It’s the feeling we experience when there is a mismatch between the meaningful social connections we want and those we have.

The charity is inviting people to share their experiences of loneliness and how it has affected their mental health using #IveBeenThere.  It is hoped this can help to open up conversations, increase understanding and reduce the stigma about loneliness.

Julie Cameron, Associate Director of Mental Health Foundation in Scotland, said: “Our research shows that loneliness is affecting hundreds of thousands of people across Scotland. This is very concerning as long-term loneliness can potentially lead to mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, and it is also associated with increased thoughts of suicide.  Yet, so many of us are embarrassed or ashamed to admit when we’re feeling lonely. “We need to tackle loneliness as a public health issue with actions from governments, communities and individuals to help prevent mental health problems. We must address the stigma of loneliness and have open conversations to let people know that they’re not alone with their feelings.  Local and national governments can do more to ensure that everyone has access to quality community spaces including green spaces where there is an opportunity for people to connect in a meaningful way.”

Having thoughts and feelings about suicide suggest that a person is acutely distressed. However, it is important to remember that most people who have such thoughts and feelings do not take their own lives.

Loneliness and related mental health problems can affect anyone, at any stage in life. Mental Health Foundation research suggests that some groups of people are especially likely to feel lonely. They include young adults aged 16-24, people with existing mental health problems and people from some minority ethnic groups. Other groups more likely to be affected by loneliness included older people and, in particular, those who are digitally excluded, people living with long-term health conditions, people who are unemployed and people who identify as LGBTQ+.

This year, the Mental Health Foundation in Scotland is calling on the Scottish Government to ensure that the implementation of its ‘A Connected Scotland’ loneliness strategy includes consideration of the mental health impact of loneliness, particularly for the groups of people who are more at risk of being lonely. The charity is also asking for the new five-year social isolation and loneliness plan to deliver targeted support where it is most needed, with additional funding streams and actions to tackle the mental health problems which can arise as a consequence.

MHF will also be urging newly elected councils to commit to taking action to help reduce social isolation in our communities such as investing in quality community spaces and community groups to create more opportunities for people to connect. When adults in Scotland were asked about what could help tackle loneliness more than half of the respondents (56%) said making it easier for people to find groups, clubs or places where they can meet others in person. More than four in ten (46%) said new or improved community-based clubs and activities in the local area where people can meet in person would help.

Julie added: “Engagement in the community can help tackle loneliness and prevent poor mental health. We need to ensure that our communities are equipped with all that they need to reduce loneliness and support healthy wellbeing. This should include local authorities investing more in community-based groups and spaces to increase opportunities for people to connect, particularly for people at higher risk of loneliness.”

Experiences of loneliness are examined in the Mental Health Foundation’s new report and policy briefing for Scotland, All the Lonely People: Exploring the Hidden Realities of Loneliness and Mental Health

MHF is also offering online Help and Advice about how people can cope with and try to ease their loneliness.

ENDS

Notes to editors

For further information, please contact [email protected].

An online survey was conducted by Opinium on behalf of The Mental Health Foundation between 23 February to 7 March 2022. Sample of 1000 residents in Scotland (18+), weighted to be nationally representative of the population of Scotland.

Survey Data

Loneliness in Scotland

  • More than three-quarters of adults in Scotland (78%) say they had felt lonely at some point in the last year
  • A quarter of adults in Scotland (25%) say they felt lonely some or all of the time in the last month

When do people feel lonely?

  • Four in ten adults in Scotland (38%) say they sometimes or often feel lonely in a group of people they know.
  • 45% of adults in Scotland feel isolated from others some or all of the time
  • 43% of adults in Scotland feel a lack of companionship some or all of the time
  • More than one-third of adults in Scotland (35%) feel lonely in their relationship with their family some or all of the time
  • A quarter of adults in Scotland (26%) feel lonely in their relationship with their partner some or all of the time

How loneliness affects mental health

  • Almost one-third of adults in Scotland (31%) said feelings of loneliness have had a negative impact on their mental health
  • More than 4 in 10 adults in Scotland (46%) said feelings of loneliness have led them to feel sad (44% have experienced low mood)
  • One in three adults in Scotland (29%) said feelings of loneliness made them feel worried or anxious
  • One in seven adults in Scotland (14%) have had suicidal thoughts and feelings because of feeling lonely

The shame and silence around loneliness

  • More than one-quarter of adults in Scotland (27%) agree/strongly agree that they feel ashamed about being lonely
  • More than half of adults in Scotland (56%) said they didn't think other people could tell when they are feeling lonely
  • Three quarters of adults in Scotland (76%) think other people often feel ashamed or embarrassed about feeling lonely
  • More than one-third of adults in Scotland (39%) said they would never admit to being lonely

Potential contributory factors and solutions 

  • More than one-third of adults in Scotland (35%) don’t think there are enough opportunities in their community to connect socially with others in a meaningful way (e.g. through clubs, groups, libraries or day centres/youth centres/children’s centres).
  • Almost half of adults in Scotland (46%) thought it likely that the council or local authority spending less money on your local area would contribute to feelings of loneliness

When adults in Scotland were asked about what could help tackle loneliness

  • 40% said affordable, accessible transport links
  • More than half (56%) said making it easier for people to find groups, clubs or places where they can meet others in person
  • Almost half (49%) said providing affordable ways for people to interact with others in-person/join social activities
  • 46% said new or improved community-based clubs and activities in the local area where people can meet in person
  • More than one third (36%) said improving the quality of public green spaces. i.e., cleanliness, safety, and/or accessibility

About the Mental Health Foundation

The Mental Health Foundation is the leading charity for everyone’s mental health.  With prevention at the heart of what we do, we aim to find and address the sources of mental health problems so that people and communities can thrive. We are also the home of Mental Health Awareness Week.

About Mental Health Awareness Week

Every May, the Mental Health Foundation hosts Mental Health Awareness Week. Now in its 22nd year, this annual event is an opportunity for the whole of the UK to focus on achieving good mental health for all. Each year, the Foundation continues to set the theme, organise and host the week, which has grown to become one of the biggest awareness weeks across the UK and globally.

Learn more about Mental Health Awareness Week 2022