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Research reveals more than a quarter of people felt lonely during the COVID-19 lockdown

Researchers from Queen’s University Belfast have found that more than a quarter of people felt lonely during the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown.

The results are from the COVID-19 Psychological Wellbeing Study which surveyed  the  psychological wellbeing of 2,000 UK adults between 23 March and 24 April 2020. The paper from the study was recently published in the journal, PLoS ONE.

The survey was carried out by Dr Jenny Groarke and colleagues from the Centre for Improving Health-Related Quality of Life at Queen’s University, as part of a collaboration with Glasgow Caledonian University.

The survey found that more than a quarter (27 per cent) of respondents were classified as lonely. Although, up to 70 per cent people said that some of the time or often in the past week they had felt isolated, left out and lacking companionship.

The factors associated with being lonely in the initial phase of lockdown included: younger age, lower income, unemployment, living alone, lower social support, having a physical or mental health condition and poor sleep quality. Self-isolating for any reason, including being high-risk or advised to shield, was also associated with loneliness.

Overall, those who were most at risk of being lonely were younger, separated or divorced, had high depression scores, greater emotion regulation difficulties, and poor-quality sleep due to the COVID-19 crisis. However, having higher levels of social support, being married/co-habiting, or living with a greater number of adults were protective factors.

Talking about the survey, Dr Groarke said: “Lockdown measures strictly limiting social contact were needed to slow the spread of the virus causing COVID-19. The UK public are worried about the impact of these measures on their mental health, and for good reason. Loneliness has a profound negative impact on physical and mental health and is a significant public health concern. Understanding the prevalence and predictors of loneliness at this time is a priority issue.”

People often think of loneliness as an older person’s problem. However, research shows that loneliness has peaks in both younger and older adulthood, and this study showed that 18-24-year olds were most at-risk for loneliness during the lockdown. 

The research conducted during the pandemic was carried out online to comply with social distancing restrictions and guidelines.

Dr Groarke continued: “We also need to bear in mind the impact of the ‘digital divide’ on research findings and on social connection. People who don’t have access to computers or the internet are excluded from online research – and also have limited access to digital forms of social contact. They may be particularly socially isolated at this time, putting them at greater risk for loneliness.

“Rates of loneliness during the initial phase of lockdown were high. Our findings suggest that support to reduce loneliness should prioritise younger people, those with mental health symptoms and people who are socially isolated. Support aimed at improving emotion regulation, sleep quality and increasing social support could reduce the impact of physical distancing regulations on mental health outcomes.”

The paper is available here: