Lockdown loneliness: COVID-19 quarantine has quarter of adults feeling like they have no friends

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Disheartening survey reveals nearly four in ten people experience days without talking to a single person.


LONDON — It’s well documented that loneliness is on the rise in recent years. The coronavirus pandemic only adds to the problem, leaving many across the globe struggling mentally. Perhaps no better proof is a recent survey of 2,000 British adults, which finds that one in four people feel like they have absolutely no friends nowadays.

Moreover, 20% admit they have never felt more isolated than over the past three months. Forget the virus: 10% say that the isolation is hardest part of this entire pandemic.

So, why are so many people feeling like they’ve lost their friends? One in five are a bit salty toward their pals because no one has reached out since the pandemic first began. Meanwhile, 14% are afraid they’ve lost some friends forever due to not being able to see them in person lately.

The survey, commissioned by the UK online banking company Santander, also shows that some people aren’t letting the coronavirus get in the way of their social life. A full 10% admit to knowingly breaking lockdown rules to go and see other people. Why take such a risk? Loneliness.

“It’s clear that during lockdown many people have been affected by loneliness and isolation,” comments Sue Willis, trustee of Santander Foundation, in a statement. “It is heartbreaking to see the impact it has had on some people’s lives and friendships.”

The downside of social distancing

Even before the pandemic started, 25% of respondents say they would often go days on end without speaking to anyone. Talk about social distancing. Fast forward to today, and 37% have recently experienced days in which they’ve had no contact with a single person.

Not surprisingly, 26% of surveyed adults admit they felt lonely at the time of the poll. On the bright side, 25% say that video calls have helped mitigate some of that loneliness. But those calls also have an unexpected after-effect for some. One in ten agree that they often feel even more isolated after hanging up a video call.

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Perhaps one of the survey’s most troubling stats is the revelation that over half of all respondents haven’t tried to talk to anyone about how they’ve been feeling. Some of those people just find it too hard to talk about what’s bothering them with people. Others just don’t want to worry their loved ones.

How, then, are people coping? Close to half (40%) have turned to comfort food and 25% indulge in alcohol.

Loneliness among older adults

According to the survey, older adults seem to have been hit the hardest by loneliness. Close to 75% of surveyed adults over the age of 55 say they’ve struggled mentally during the pandemic. Despite this troubling statistic, two-thirds also admit they haven’t tried to speak to anyone about how they’re feeling.

Those findings were partially supported by what respondents had to say about their older or more vulnerable relatives. In total, 40% of respondents with an older loved one have noticed a decline in that person’s mental or physical health since the coronavirus emerged.

People living alone are particularly feeling the effects from the loneliness bug. Since the U.K. lockdown started on March 23rd, respondents who live alone have gone an average of 11 days without talking to anyone.

Ways to provide uplift

The authors offer some video chatting tips, courtesy of Age UK and Alzheimer’s Society, on how to help bring some light into the lives of older people who may be feeling down or alone.

First impressions count: The first 30 seconds of your conversation are crucial, so smile while you speak – even if they can’t see you, to help your voice express your interest, enthusiasm and confidence.

Have a friendly chat: Rather than bombarding them with questions, listen out for things that spark their interest – you’re there for a friendly chat, not an interview.

Talk about the past: Ask about the past and what life was like growing up instead of talking about the current situation – it’ll lead to better conversations.

Take your time: If the person you are chatting to is struggling to hear you clearly, try speaking more slowly rather than upping the volume.

Ignore awkward silence: Don’t worry about long pauses in conversation – it gives everyone time to gather their thoughts.

The survey was conducted by OnePoll.

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