Lockdowns to protect people from COVID-19 have slowed down transmission. But it boosted the levels of loneliness. And according to a UK survey, more than 25% of respondents were found lonely.
The loneliness rate during lockdowns was highlighted by a recent survey. The UK survey showed that over 25% of respondents were determined lonely. Their loneliness was apparent in the early stages of the COVID-19 lockdown. The negative mental state was correlated to several social and health factors. Because community transmission remains a problem worldwide, unaddressed signs of loneliness could raise the risk of social isolation. The findings were published in the journal PLOS One.
The State of Loneliness in the UK in 2019
Before the pandemic began, millions of people worldwide already experienced signs of loneliness. While many likely recovered from being lonely, there were some likely at risk of major depressive disorder and social isolation. One reason for loneliness is the lack of a solid social circle. Without a social circle, a person will not have someone they can rely on. They are at risk of feeling disconnected and isolated from other people. And if it happens, their behavior can drastically change.
Last year, British internet-based market research firm YouGov conducted a survey focused on friendship. Between August 22 and 23, 2019, respondents were asked if they have at least one friend. Responses showed that 28% of British people of all ages had no one they could consider as a best friend. While 15% had no one they could consider as a close friend. Around 8% said they have no friends at all. The figures showed that approximately 43% had no one they could truly depend on during times of great need. While 8% would have no one else to even ask for help.
When it comes to making new friends, 46% of British adults aged 18 to 24 years made a new friend in the last six months. While only 25% of British adults aged 55 years and older made a new friend within the same period. Across all ages, older adults were less likely to make a new friend or connection within six months or six years. Younger adults were more likely to make a new connection, despite the issue of making someone a close or best friend.
The Loneliness in COVID-19 Pandemic
There is no doubt that the pandemic caused high levels of stress in millions of people worldwide. Millions have lost their primary source of income. That alone triggered anxiety and depressive symptoms to nearly everyone. And to make matters worse, scientists are still months away from producing an effective COVID-19 vaccine or treatment. The time needed to produce one is straining the mental health of those severely affected by this pandemic.
Recently, a study led by Queen's University Belfast (QUB) showed the prevalence of depression in the UK alone. While the focus of their research covered only one territory, the situation could be more or less similar to different nations. The rates of depression outside the UK might even be greater in territories being ravaged by COVID-19, poverty, and violent conflicts.
"We found that rates of loneliness during the early stages of the UK lockdown were high," said Jenny Groarke, the first author of the study and researcher at QUB, quoted science news distributor Science Daily.
In the study, the team used a survey to collect data from UK adults. The main information was the experience of adults in the initial phase of COVID-19 lockdown enforced in the country. The initial phase was from March 23 to April 24, 2020. A total of 1,964 participants were eligible to participate in the online survey. Questions included factors like loneliness, health, status, and sociodemographic elements. About 92.7% of respondents were White, 70.4% were females, 57.5% were non-religious, and 71.9% were employed. The average age of respondents was 37.11, but the range was from 18 to 87 years.
Researchers applied the logistic regression analysis to examine the effects of COVID-19, health, social, and sociodemographic factors on loneliness. Results showed that the overall prevalence of loneliness was 27%, represented by 530 out of 1,964 respondents. Among risk factors of loneliness, the younger age group had the highest influence with an odds ratio (OR) of between 4.67 and 5.31. It was followed by divorce or separation with an OR of 2.29, scores of clinical criteria for depression with an OR of 1.74, poor sleep quality due to the pandemic with an OR of 1.30, and higher emotional regulation difficulties with an OR of 1.04.
Fortunately, there were factors that provided some level of protection against loneliness. These factors were high levels of social support with an OR of 0.92, living with several adults with an OR of 0.87, and cohabiting with someone or being married with an OR of 0.35. Researchers concluded that loneliness was high during the early phase of the lockdown. Although the pandemic was a reason, the risk factors were not specific to the COVID-19 crisis. The factors could be amplified by the pandemic but COVID-19 alone might not be enough as a primary causal factor.
If governments and non-government organizations plan to make interventions for loneliness, researchers suggest prioritizing younger adults, people who scored high in clinical depression or already diagnosed with depression, and those with other mental health symptoms including anxiety. Interventions do not have to be adverse to the economy. Simple solutions centered around improving sleep quality, increasing social support, and developing emotional regulation can go a long way. These simple solutions can effectively mitigate the impact of the pandemic on mental health.
Depression and loneliness are two different things that can create a cycle. Depression often refers to isolating oneself from others. While loneliness often refers to the lack of intimacy or genuineness in relationships that leads to unfulfillment. The lack of genuine care or intimacy causes loneliness that leads to depression. Depression causes loneliness as the person socially separates from others. Either end can generate a link and start a vicious cycle, wherein the person experiences the negative duality of depression and loneliness.