Loneliness affects mental health of millions, yet many feel ashamed to talk about it

Loneliness affects the mental health of millions yet many feel ashamed to talk about it: new Mental Health Awareness Week survey of 6,000 UK adults.

  • A quarter of UK adults (25 per cent) have felt lonely some, or all of the time, over the previous month
  • A quarter of UK adults (25 per cent) feel ashamed about being lonely
  • More than one third (35 per cent) of UK adults say they would never admit to feeling lonely
  • One in two (44 per cent) say feelings of loneliness have made them feel sad
  • One in four UK adults  (25 per cent) said feelings of loneliness made them feel worried or anxious
  • One in 8 (12 per cent) of UK adults have had suicidal thoughts and feelings because of feeling lonely1

One in four UK adults (25 per cent) say they have felt lonely some or all of the time over the last month, according to a survey of 6,000 UK adults2 commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation.

Millions of people’s mental health are harmed by loneliness, yet more than one third (35 per cent) of those surveyed say they would never admit to being lonely and one quarter (25 per cent) say they feel ashamed about being lonely.

The survey marks the start of Mental Health Awareness Week, led and organised by the Foundation across the UK for the last 22 years. Loneliness touched the lives of many of us during the Covid lockdowns, and this year the Foundation is exploring how loneliness affects our mental health.  

Sharing our experiences helps to start conversations with others and break the stigma associated with loneliness and mental health. This Mental Health Awareness Week, everyone is invited to share experiences of loneliness using #IveBeenThere.

Mark Rowland, Chief Executive of the Foundation said: “Our data shows how loneliness is affecting the mental health of millions of people across the UK.  We also know the longer we feel lonely, the greater the risk of poor mental health. Loneliness can be toxic and lead to anxiety and depression and is also associated with increased thoughts of suicide. Loneliness is a significant public health issue and as a society, we can and must do better to help people who are lonely and prevent mental health problems. An important step is to address stigma and misconceptions about who experiences loneliness so that people don’t feel ashamed about how they feel. But we also need the Government to step up the momentum in tackling loneliness across society.”

The Foundation’s research suggests that some groups of people are more at risk of loneliness including young adults, people with existing mental health problems and people from some minority ethnic groups. Other groups more likely to be affected by loneliness included people in later life especially those who are digitally excluded.

This year, the Foundation is calling on the Government to address the chronic underfunding of public health by restoring the Public Health Grant to 2015/16 levels and including commitments on loneliness within its new 10-year Mental Health strategy in particular recognising those groups who are at more risk of loneliness.

Mark Rowland, Chief Executive of the Foundation said: “We know some people are at a higher risk of loneliness than others. That’s why we need a fairly funded public mental health approach, that recognises these differences and targets action accordingly. The mental health impacts of loneliness must be taken seriously and tangible policy changes and investment decisions made to reduce loneliness and to improve people’s connections with one another.”

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

Detailed policy recommendations for England are set out in our Policy Briefing.

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

How common is loneliness

  • 3 in 10 adults  (27 per cent) in the UK say they feel lonely some or all of the time
  • 7 in 10 adults (70 per cent) say they have felt lonely at some point in the last month
  • A quarter (25 per cent) say that they have felt lonely some or all of the time in the last month
  • Almost one in ten (8 per cent) said they felt lonely over the last month ‘often’ or ‘always’
  • Almost 4 in 10 people (39 per cent) said feelings of loneliness have led them to experience low mood (or sadness)
  • 1 in 4  people (25 per cent) said feelings of loneliness made them feel worried or anxious
  • 1 in 8 (12 per cent) UK adults have had suicidal thoughts and feelings because of feeling lonely.  

The shame and silence around loneliness:

  • 1 in 4 UK adults (25 per cent) feel ashamed about being lonely
  • More than half of adults  (55 per cent) said they didn't think other people could tell when they are feeling lonely
  • Three quarters (76 per cent) think other people often feel ashamed or embarrassed about feeling lonely
  • One-third (35 per cent) said they would never admit to being lonely.

ENDS

Notes to editors:

For further information please contact [email protected]

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 sets the theme and organises and hosts 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 data on young people and people in later life.


1Having thoughts and feelings about suicide are an indicator that a person is acutely distressed. However, most people who have such thoughts and feelings do not take their own lives.

2Research carried out by Opinium for the Mental Health Foundation on 6,000 UK adults aged 18 and above between 27 February and 3 March 2022.