loneliness research: photo of man wearing hooded jacket in front of body of water

New Loneliness Research confirms links to Mental Distress

  • Research also finds that young people, disabled people and the LGBTQ community are at higher risk of chronic loneliness
  • Ministers across a range of Government departments to launch a renewed effort to tackle loneliness as part of national recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic

New loneliness research that has been published today by the UK Government confirms direct links between chronic loneliness and increased mental health distress.

As we start Loneliness Awareness Week, the new research analysed mental wellbeing over a long period and the impacts of loneliness, with the results demonstrating that chronic loneliness is instrumental in both creating and extending mental health distress.

The new research also shows that it works both ways, with mental health distress in itself causing a major part in chronic loneliness starting and carrying on.

The research indicates that early intervention programmes may be important in fighting the effects of loneliness on mental health in the short term.

The UK Government Minister for Civil Society and Youth is now bringing together ministers from multiple government departments in order to build further momentum in the fight against loneliness. This multi-department group will format a delivery plan to build on this new research and set out the new government action plan in early 2023, building on the Tackling Loneliness Strategy form 2018 and the Government’s anti-loneliness projects funded during the COvid-19 pandemic via the £750 million charity funding programme.

Minister for Civil Society and Youth Nigel Huddleston said:

Loneliness can affect all of us and the research published today highlights that young and disabled people, alongside those with long-term health conditions, are disproportionately affected by loneliness.

As we start Loneliness Awareness Week I encourage everyone to reach out to someone they think may be feeling alone or isolated.

The Government prioritised tackling loneliness through the pandemic and we will now redouble our efforts to protect those most at risk.

Following the launch of the strategy for tackling loneliness in 2018, the Government appointed a Minister for Loneliness and together with multiple charitable partners, they invested over £50 million pounds to help beat loneliness and help thousands of people to connect to their communities and each other through the things that matter to them.

The independent research from the National Centre for Social Research was compiled from data encompassing over 35,000 people aged 16 and over from 2013/14 to 2019/20. As part of the research, the team examined which people were susceptible to loneliness, whether the known risk factors for loneliness had changed, how mental wellbeing and loneliness interact and are related, and what mitigating actions can help relieve loneliness in the short term.

The new research shows that, as well as the relationship between loneliness and mental health distress, some groups of people are less resilient to the impact of loneliness:

  • Young people between 16-34 were found to be particularly at risk, with research showing they were at five times greater risk of chronic loneliness than those aged 65 or older. Drivers of loneliness in young people were identified as negative social experiences, such as bullying from peers and siblings and arguments with parents.
  • People with a disability or long-standing health condition were 2.9 times more likely to experience chronic loneliness and were less likely to move out of loneliness than those without a disability.
  • Those in the LGBTQ community were also disproportionately affected, with people who identified as gay or lesbian 1.4 times more likely to be lonely, and people who identified as bisexual 2.5 times more likely to be lonely.
  • Those in the lowest income quintile were 50 per cent more likely to experience chronic loneliness when compared with the wealthiest quintile.

Minister for Mental Health Gillian Keegan said:

Loneliness is a growing issue – and this research emphasises the continued need to ensure those feeling lonely can access the resources they need.

We’re accelerating the rollout of mental health support teams in schools and expanding community services for adults and young people to make sure everyone can access support, as well as providing helpful advice and resources on the Every Mind Matters website.

We’ve also recently opened a call for evidence to gather views from the public to inform a new 10-year mental health plan which will focus on ensuring the nation is in positive mental wellbeing.

Dr Sokratis Dinos, Director of Health at the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), said:

This research highlights the significant relationship between loneliness and mental health. People experiencing chronic loneliness were shown in our study to be nearly four times more likely than people without chronic loneliness to be in mental distress.

Poor mental health can lead to difficulties connecting with others, social withdrawal and loneliness, while loneliness can equally contribute to poor mental health. Our research highlights the benefit of targeted support for people at different life stages, and community based activities for people with shared interests to improve outcomes.

During the pandemic, the Government made tackling loneliness a priority by allocating loneliness as a specific target category in the Government’s £750 million charity funding package. The Government continues to encourage people to ‘lift someone out of loneliness’ as part of the Better Health: Every Mind Matters campaign, emphasising the benefits of social connection this Loneliness Awareness Week.

If you are looking to tackle loneliness in your area, speak to Nest + Grow CIC about their Social Isolation and Social Inclusion projects.