Hundreds of thousands of adults in Northern Ireland affected by loneliness

Hundreds of thousands of adults in Northern Ireland are affected by loneliness that negatively impacts mental health, but many are unable to talk about it.

Mental Health Foundation is calling on the new Assembly to take loneliness seriously and create new £2 million Communities Mental Health and Wellbeing Fund

New Mental Health Awareness Week survey of 1,000 adults in Northern Ireland

  • More than a quarter of adults in Northern Ireland (28%) have felt lonely some or all of the time over the previous month
  • One-third of adults in Northern Ireland (33%) feel ashamed about being lonely
  • Almost half of adults in Northern Ireland (45%) say they would never admit to feeling lonely
  • More than one-third of adults in Northern Ireland (37%) said feelings of loneliness have made them feel worried or anxious

More than a quarter of adults In Northern Ireland say they felt lonely some or all of the time over the last month, but many feel ashamed or unable to talk about it, according to a survey of 1,000 adults commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation.

The results suggest that thousands of people’s mental health is harmed by loneliness, yet nearly half (45%) of those surveyed say they would never admit to being lonely, while one third (33%) say they felt ashamed about being lonely.

The survey marks the start of Mental Health Awareness Week, which has been led and organised by the Foundation across the UK for the last 22 years. This year’s theme is loneliness, chosen because it can damage mental health and because it surged during the lockdowns.

The Foundation is inviting people to share their experiences of loneliness and how it has affected their mental health using #IveBeenThere as a way of opening up the conversation and helping to reduce the stigma.

Karen Hall, Head of Northern Ireland at Mental Health Foundation, said: “Loneliness is a significant public health issue and if we are to curb the flow of mental health problems in society, we need to take loneliness seriously. We can all feel lonely at times, but when loneliness is experienced over the long term, it can lead to anxiety and depression. “Our research shows that despite so many people being affected by loneliness, almost half of us would not admit to feeling lonely.  All of us have a part to play in tackling loneliness and its stigma, and helping to prevent poor mental health. We hope that Mental Health Awareness Week will encourage more people to have open conversations about loneliness and how it affects their mental health and wellbeing”.

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, people with existing mental health problems and people from some minority ethnic groups. Other groups more likely to be affected by loneliness include older people, in particular, those who are digitally excluded, people living with long-term health conditions, people who are unemployed, and people who identify as LGBTQ+.

MHF is urging the new Assembly and local Councils to take the issue of loneliness seriously.  The charity is calling for a Communities Mental Health and Wellbeing Fund of £2 million to support good mental health.  The fund would provide small grants to enable local communities to engage in activities that support good mental health and wellbeing, social connections, recovery and creativity.  Investment can also support quality community spaces to create more opportunities for people to connect.

More than four in ten adults in Northern Ireland (43%) 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).  When asked what could be done to help tackle loneliness in Northern Ireland, more than half (51%) said new or improved community-based clubs and activities in the local area where people can meet in person.

Karen added: “Local community groups and organisations play a vital role in supporting social connection and good mental health. Often operating with very low funds, community organisations have the potential to boost social connections, help tackle loneliness and substantially contribute to improving mental health and wellbeing here. The new Assembly and local Councils must support our communities by ensuring they have the resources to support people to have good mental health and wellbeing, particularly those who are at higher risk.”

The different experiences of loneliness for adults across the UK are examined in the Mental Health Foundation’s new report All the Lonely People: Exploring the Hidden Realities of Loneliness and Mental Health.

The Foundation 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 – 7 March 2022. Sample of 1,000 residents in Northern Ireland (18+), weighted to be nationally representative of the population of Northern Ireland.

Survey Data

Loneliness in Northern Ireland

  • Almost one-third of adults in Northern Ireland (31%) said they felt lonely some or all of the time
  • More than three-quarters of adults in Northern Ireland (76%) say they had felt lonely at some point in the last month
  • More than one-quarter of adults in Northern Ireland (28%) say they felt lonely some or all of the time in the last month

When do people feel lonely?

  • Nearly half of adults in Northern Ireland (47%) say they sometimes or often feel lonely in a group of people they know
  • 50% of adults in Northern Ireland feel isolated from others some or all of the time
  • 47% of adults in Northern Ireland feel a lack of companionship some or all of the time
  • More than one-third of adults in Northern Ireland (39%) feel lonely in their relationship with their family some or all of the time
  • One third of adults in Northern Ireland (33%) feel lonely in their relationship with their partner some or all of the time 

How loneliness affects mental health

  • More than one-third of adults in Northern Ireland (37%) said feelings of loneliness have had a negative impact on their mental health
  • More than half of adults in Northern Ireland (53%) said feelings of loneliness have led them to feel sad (48% have experienced low mood)
  • More than one-third of adults in Northern Ireland (37%) said feelings of loneliness have made them feel worried or anxious
  • One in seven adults in Northern Ireland (15%)  adults have had suicidal thoughts and feelings because of feeling lonely

The shame and silence around loneliness

  • One-third of adults in Northern Ireland (33%) agree/strongly agree that they feel ashamed about being lonely
  • Two thirds of adults in Northern Ireland (66%) said they didn't think other people could tell when they are feeling lonely
  • More than eight in ten adults in Northern Ireland (84%) think other people often feel ashamed or embarrassed about feeling lonely
  • More than four in ten adults in Northern Ireland (45%) said they would never admit to being lonely 

Potential contributory factors and solutions 

  • More than four in ten adults in Northern Ireland (43%) 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)
  • Half of the adults in Northern Ireland (50%) 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 Northern Ireland were asked about what could help tackle loneliness

  • 41% said affordable, accessible transport links
  • More than half (61%) said making it easier for people to find groups, clubs or places where they can meet others in person
  • More than half (55%) said providing affordable ways for people to interact with others in-person/join social activities
  • More than half (51%) said new or improved community-based clubs and activities in the local area where people can meet in person
  • More than one third (37%) 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.   For more information about the Foundation visit www.mentalhealth.org.uk

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. 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.

More insights from our research and survey on loneliness and mental health will be shared throughout the week including insights on young people and people in later life.