According to research by the British Red Cross 41% of adults report feeling lonelier after lockdown. A poll by Life Search showed that 32% of British people lost an average of four friends over the course of the pandemic. A worrying 55% of those aged 18 to 34 lost an average of five friends.
Loneliness in the UK is widely described as an epidemic. Everyone has heard about how damaging loneliness can be in old age, but loneliness impacts people of all ages. This is especially true post pandemic, when many people lost friends and family either due to the disconnect of lockdown or to the virus itself.
Furthermore, Brits average higher rates of loneliness than other countries in the EU. The decision to leave the EU led to Europeans believing we would become an isolated lonely nation, and while there isn’t evidence to suggest that Brexit is the cause, this statement seems to be true. After all, the UK was the first nation to appoint a minster of loneliness.
The impact of loneliness
Loneliness and social isolation can cause an increased risk of many health problems. The US-based Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that loneliness is associated with higher rates of depression and anxiety. It can do as much harm to a person’s health as smoking and physical inactivity, and cause premature death in older people.
Loneliness in students
Students are a group very prone to loneliness but are also often ignored on this issue due to the romanticisation of university life. University students experience similar levels of loneliness as elderly people, with the Office of National Statistics reporting that 26% of students feel lonely on a regular basis. This is similar to a 2021 review supported by The National Institute for Healthcare and Research (NIHR) that reports on average worldwide one in four adults over 60 experience regular feelings of loneliness.
The Tab, a student-run news site for students, completed a survey on loneliness in students earlier this year. The results showed that 62.5% of students have experienced loneliness at university. Over 4,000 students at more than 30 unis around the UK took this survey.
Students are statistically more likely to report regular feelings of loneliness than many other groups and, as The Tab’s case studies reveal, there are a number of reasons why this is the case.
Loneliness can be the result of moving to a new city for university and finding it hard to make completely new friends while being separated from family. Those who live in student accommodation may find it fairly easy to make new friends, but if you’re sharing a flat with people you don’t get on with, you might struggle. Young people who are out of tune with aspects of student culture, such as drinking, can end up feeling left out and isolated.
On the other hand, students who stay at home can have a hard time too. Many childhood friends might have moved away for university themselves, still leaving the student having to make new friends. But with a possibly long commute separating them from other students on their course and without the chance to make friends with flatmates, students who stay at home could also struggle with loneliness.
What can we do?
There are things we can do to help fight against the loneliness many of us are facing. Making sure to check in regularly with family and friends and rebuilding a sense of community can be the first step.
The NHS also offers help for those who are feeling lonely as well as advice for people close to someone struggling with loneliness. The internet is a great tool for finding others you can relate to and build a friendship with. Sites such as mumsnet, the student room and gransnet are forums available for mums, students and over 50s who want to connect with others.
For students who struggle with loneliness, universities often offer many different societies you could join to meet people with similar interests. If you would like to speak to someone about loneliness, you can contact your university’s mental health support team. There is also a company called Student Space, which is a support service designed for students to talk about anything on your mind. You can text or email if you are uncomfortable with calling someone.
Furthermore, Age UK offers a friendship telephone service where you can volunteer to talk to an elderly person for half an hour every week. This can be a great way to give back to your community and help someone who might be lonely, while also giving you a chance to socialise more and maybe make a new friend.
Loneliness is not something to be ashamed of. More people experience it than many realise and reducing the stigma is a huge step towards solving the problem. There is no reason to suffer in silence. Reach out to those close to you because they might really need it.