FAQ for media
How does loneliness affect people’s mental health?
The evidence suggests that feeling lonely is linked to experiences of mental ill-health (such as anxiety and depression) later on, and this has been found for both young people and older adults. People who experience mental ill-health are also tend to be more lonely than those who don’t, so it runs both ways.
What are the dangers of prolonged feelings of loneliness?
Most people feel lonely at some point in their lives, often around transitions such as moving to a new place, starting a new job, going to university, becoming a parent, or bereavement. Loneliness is part of being human, and is a signal that someone needs to (re)connect with others. The issue is when loneliness becomes prolonged, when it can feel like the person is trapped in feeling disconnected. This is when issues with physical and mental ill-health might start becoming apparent.
How does loneliness affect different age groups?
It’s generally been found that loneliness is highest amongst young people and older adults, creating a U-shaped distribution over the life-course. Historically, loneliness research focused on older people, but it’s become clear that young people are also more likely than other age-groups to feel lonely. This might be because they are going through so many transitions in terms of identity, social networks and circumstances. I found it interesting that in the BBC Loneliness Experiment they asked people of all ages when they had been the loneliest in their lives, and even older people said that it had been when they were young. Pam Qualter, who led that research, suggested that this might be because young people haven’t yet come up with strategies to address feelings to loneliness.
What can people do to tackle feelings of loneliness?
We asked this question to a group of people who experience mental ill-health as well as loneliness, and have co-produced a booklet of their suggestions alongside lived experience researchers: https://tinyurl.com/conversationsMHloneliness
Any advice for how others can support people experiencing feelings of loneliness?
See our Conversations booklet for ideas and also this briefing we contributed to, focusing on young people: https://emergingminds.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Co-RAY-Briefing-Loneliness-Isolation-Version-1.0.pdf
Do you have any statistics or reports about loneliness we can refer to?
Please see our Resources page: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/psychiatry/research/epidemiology-and-applied-clinical-research-department/loneliness-and-social-isolation-4. What Works Centre for Wellbeing has some good resources on loneliness too, as does the Campaign to End Loneliness.
You mention about loneliness and social isolation. How do they differ and how do they affect people differently?
Loneliness is when someone feels there’s a mismatch between the number and quality of relationships they have, and those they’d like to have. It’s a painful subjective experience. Social isolation, on the other hand, is when there’s an objective lack of relationship number or quality. You can be lonely because you’re isolated, but you can also be lonely in a crowd. You can also be alone and really enjoy the solitude. These distinctions are really important when thinking about how to address loneliness. For example, if someone is socially isolated, then joining a new group might help, but that wouldn’t necessary be a good solution for someone who continues to feel disconnected even if there are opportunities for them to interact socially.
Any additional comments?
There are different kinds of loneliness, which would again affect what might help. Emotional loneliness is when the mismatch it to do with an intimate relationship, for example as a result of a romantic relationship breakup. Social loneliness is when someone doesn’t feel part of a community, and existential loneliness is when someone doesn’t feel a sense of purpose, or doesn’t know where they fit in the world.
- Loneliness, Social Isolation & Covid-19
Lockdown loneliness could leave people 'stuck' charity warns, Alex Moss & Rob England, BBC, May 2021.
Updates from the COVID Social Study.
Isolation will fuel gambling addiction. We must protect those at risk. The Guardian 27 March 2020. Written by Carolyn Harris.
Finding connection in an age of isolation podcast, RSA, Matthew Taylor speaking to Dr Vivek Murthy, US Surgeon General.
Has the pandemic really caused a 'tsunami' of mental health problems? Richard Bentall, The Guardian, February 2021.
- Interventions & Solutions
Student loneliness app to tackle looming crisis of Covid drop-outs, Poppy Watson, Future Scot, August 2021.
TransPennine Express launches 'chatty bench' scheme, Ed Horner, The Press, August 2021.
What robots can - and can't - do for the lonely old and lonely, Katie Engelhart, The New Yorker, May 2021.
The social biome: how to build nourishing friendships - and banish loneliness, Moya Sarner, The Guardian, March 2021.
Music, making connections, and mental health: insights from the Carer's Music Fund podcast, what Works Wellbeing podcast, April 2021.
We don't have to fight loneliness alone Worklife podcast, Adam Grant, April 2020.
Seoul's over-65s disco 'like medicine' for seniors. BBC News, 27 Aug 2019. Produced by Olivia Lang and Julie Yoonnyung Lee. Filmed by Youjin Do and Olivia Lang.
A Solution for Loneliness. Scientific American, 21 May 2019. Written by By Kasley Killam.
Noreena Heertz and Loneliness, The Spark presented by Helen Lewis, Radio 4, February 2021. LSIMHN member Noreena Heertz advocates a series of political solutions to loneliness.
We don't have to fight loneliness alone Worklife podcast, Adam Grant, April 2020.
Innovative Support Groups Help Women Aging Alone. Blue Zones, March 2019. Written by Judith Graham.
The world’s happiest people have a beautifully simple way to tackle loneliness. Quartz, 16 April 2019. Written by Jenny Anderson.
- Awareness Raising & Educational Media
Married to the job: How a long-hours working cultures keeps people single and lonely, Sarah Jaffe, The Guardian, April 2021.
Is social disconnection comparable to smoking? Julianne Holt-Lunstad, TEDx talk, May 2021.
Don't mention the 'L' word: should we be talking about loneliness, or tackling it by stealth? Bianca Rosetti, Bristol Ageing Better, writing for the Campaign to End Loneliness guest blog, May 2021.
Exploring Loneliness podcast series from the Campaign to End Loneliness, which focus on different aspects of loneliness including bereavement, community and psychology.
Ending loneliness in Australia and New Zealand webinar recording hosted by The Australia Institute and featuring Holly Walker from The Helen Clark Foundation and Australian Labor MP Andrew Giles, co-chair of the cross-party group on ending loneliness in the Australian Federal Parliament.
BBC R4 Farming Today programme on mental health in rural areas, including an interview with Pathways Plus project PI Matt Lobley, 16th February 2021 (minute 2.21).
Book review: A History of Solitude by David Vincent; A Biography of Loneliness by Fay Bound Alberti - review. The Guardian 19 Mar 2020. Written by Terry Eagleton.
So British people aren’t socialising much? That doesn’t mean they’re lonely. The Guardian, 20 Jun 2019. Written by Fay Bound Alberti.
The agony of weekend loneliness: 'I won't speak to another human until Monday'. The Guardian, 16 Jan 2020. Written by Paula Cocozza.
Loneliness - the last taboo? BBC Radio 4 10 Feb 2020. Presented by Jane Garvey.
Wildlife Trust's reaction to HS2, growing crops in a refugee camp, mental health, potato storage. BBC Radio 4, 12 Feb 2020. Presented by Anna Hill. Produced by Beatrice Fenton.
Guardian article on the phenomenon of weekend loneliness and its relationship to mood.
Why do men find it so difficult to make new friends? Evening Standard, 9 October 2019. Written by Stuart Heritage.
Farming Today Radio 4 programme on mental health in farmers.
Time to tackle loneliness in Milton Keynes. MKCitizen, 17 June 2019. Written by By Toby Lock.
Why do Britons have fewer close friends than people in any other country? The Guardian, 25 Jun 2019. Written by Ammar Kalia.
- Loneliness & Social Isolation in Mental Health Research Network in the Media
MHTV episode about research conducted by the Network in collaboration with the UCL/KCL Mental health Policy Research Unit, involving interviews conducted by lived experience researcher with individuals with mental health problems about their experience during the COVID-19 pandemic. You can read a preprint of the paper here.
Network member Pam Qualter talked about her research on Woman’s Hour, Radio 4.