The number of people in the United Kingdom experiencing loneliness during the COVID-19 pandemic has more than doubled since March 2020 despite an overall reduction in anxiety levels, a new study says.
A survey conducted by the Mental Health Foundation also revealed that fewer adults felt they were coping well with the ongoing pandemic stress compared to last year.
Out of 4,251 adults surveyed in February 2021, over a quarter (26 per cent) said they now felt lonely, up from 10 per cent last March.
Younger people were also more likely to feel alone, with 48 per cent of those surveyed in February reporting feeling alone.
The foundation said feelings of loneliness had not returned to their pre-lockdown levels at any point over the past year, even when most restrictions were lifted over the summer.
Around two-thirds (64 per cent) of those surveyed thought they were coping well with the pandemic, down from 73 per cent in last year.
Those experiencing suicidal thoughts had also risen year-on-year from eight per cent to 13 per cent.
But overall anxiety about the pandemic has fallen among adults, from 62 per cent of those surveyed in March 2020 to 42 per cent in February 2021.
Antonis Kousoulis, director for England and Wales at the Mental Health Foundation, said it was important for people to remember that the pandemic had affected individuals in different ways.”
“What we see (from the study) is a complex picture. On some measures, UK adults are feeling better than in March 2020, but on others, we are feeling no better or worse.
“Fewer of us are feeling anxious about the pandemic, but more of us now feel lonely and ground down by the stress of the past year.
“It is absolutely important to remember that the experience of the past year has not been shared by everyone.
“We have all been in the same storm, but we have not all been in the same boat. However, for many of us, the next few months, and even years, will remain tough, vulnerable, and uncertain,” said Dr Kousoulis.
The survey said young adults, aged 18 to 24 years old, full-time students, and unemployed people were also significantly more likely to be feeling distressed, across a range of measures, compared with UK adults generally.
“One of our key aims, when we launched the study a year ago, was to identify what was happening across the UK population and whether some groups were particularly seriously affected.
“This was designed to help us as a charity and policymakers, to target support at some of the most vulnerable people.
“We can now see clearly that among the most seriously affected people are young adults, people who are unemployed and full-time students.
“In these groups, painful experiences, including loneliness, hopelessness, and feeling suicidal, are much more common. This is especially troubling at a time when unemployment is set to rise.
“Policymakers must target support at these more vulnerable groups, to help prevent them reaching crisis point,” Dr Kousoulis added.