Worst affected were those in the younger age bracket, on lower income and people already suffering from poor mental health.
Although 27% of those survey classed themselves as lonely at that time, around 70% of people said they had felt isolated, left out and lacking companionship at some time during the previous week.
The survey was carried out by Dr Jenny Groarke and colleagues from the Centre for Improving Health-Related Quality of Life at Queen’s in collaboration with Glasgow Caledonian University.
Self-isolating for any reason – including being in a high-risk group or having been advised to shield – was also linked with loneliness.
The psychological wellbeing survey of 2,000 UK adults was carried out between March 23 and April 24, 2020.
Dr Groarke said: “Lockdown measures strictly limiting social contact were needed to slow the spread of the virus causing Covid-19.
“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.”
Dr Groake added: “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
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