Almost a quarter of adults living under lockdown in Scotland have felt loneliness

23rd Apr 2020

Almost a quarter of adults living under lockdown in Scotland have felt loneliness raising concern about long-term risk to mental health – Mental Health Foundation Longitudinal Study

  • Almost one quarter (24 per cent) of Scottish adults have felt loneliness because of Coronavirus
  • More than four in ten (43 per cent) of young people (18-24 years) aged have felt loneliness
  • Feelings of loneliness have more than doubled over the lockdown period
  • Charity warns about long-term risk to mental health of loneliness
  • Physical safety is the priority but mental health impacts must be part of policy development

One in four adults (24 per cent) in Scotland have felt lonely because of coronavirus according to a major study which is tracking mental health across the pandemic.

The most affected group were young people (18-24 years) – with more than four in ten (43 per cent) saying they felt lonely, according to the research study.

The next most affected group were adults aged 35-44 with almost than one third (32 per cent) saying they had felt loneliness as a result of coronavirus

One in six of older people aged over 55 said they felt lonely as a result of coronavirus, according to the study.

The survey is being launched in the same week that the Scottish Government launched a new national mental health and wellbeing campaign to help people cope during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.  The ‘Clear Your Head’ campaign highlights the practical things people can do to help them feel better whilst continuing to stay at home, acknowledging these are worrying and uncertain times for many.

The survey data of 1028 Scottish adults aged 18 and over was collected as part of a major UK-wide longitudinal research project entitled – Coronavirus: Mental Health and the Pandemic.

The survey was carried out on April 2nd to 3rd 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 Strathclyde, Swansea University, University of Cambridge and Queen’s University Belfast.

The charity is seeking to track changes in Scotland and the UK’s mental health in real time and target issues as they emerge. Read advice on tackling loneliness.

Lee Knifton, Director at the Mental Health Foundation Scotland 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 charity welcomes the launch of the Scottish Government’s ‘Clear your Head’ campaign and is urging it to take specific action to protect the mental health of young people as well as older adults – the two groups most likely to be affected by loneliness and isolation – through public health campaigns and investment in local peer support.

The research also revealed a major surge in feelings of loneliness which more than doubled across the lockdown period.

When the researchers carried out its first round of the survey in March, shortly before lockdown started, 11 percent of Scottish adults said they had felt lonely.

This figure rose to 24 per cent of all Scottish adults by the beginning of April.

Similarly, shortly before lockdown 26 percent of young people aged 18-24 said they had felt loneliness because of coronavirus.

This figure rose to 43 percent of young people 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 covers approximately 20 topics including the unequal impact on mental health for at risk groups,  the key drivers of risk to mental health and how people in the UK are coping. Qualitative data is to 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, total sample size was 1028 Scottish adults aged 18+. Fieldwork to gather the new data was undertaken between 2nd - 3rd April 2020.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).

The previous wave of data-gathering was as follows: Total sample size was 1015 Scottish adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 17th - 18th March 2020.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all Scottish adults (aged 18+).



Help and advice on how to manage loneliness in the pandemic

Help and advice on how to manage your mental health during the coronavirus pandemic

The Foundation is leading and sponsoring this 4-nation study.

We will lead a longitudinal study (4-6 months) using a method of repeated cross-sectional surveys, via YouGov, where survey participants are different on each sampling occasion but taken from the same pool and representative of the UK. The survey will cover approx. 20 topics including impact on mental health and the key drivers of risk.

It is noted that we already have data from 2 weeks ago.

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 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 numbers of people affected were carried out by the Mental Health Foundation.

The Mental Health Foundation: Our vision is of 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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