If you've been following Women's Health's latest campaign, The Loneliness Remedy, you'll be clued up on the startling reality of loneliness levels in this country, since the pandemic uprooted our collective lives in spring 2020. In Autumn, we surveyed over 2,000 of you, our readers, and the prevailing message was that you have seriously struggled with feelings of disconnection and isolation this year, with 79% of respondents reporting that they feel lonelier now than before the pandemic.
Now, new data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has shown in which areas of Britain lockdown has inflamed the feeling the most. Largely, poorer, more urban areas with high volumes of younger people have suffered in the greatest numbers – higher unemployment is linked to higher loneliness rates – with wealthy, rural areas least impacted.
In adults, nationally, 7% of people said that they are 'always or often' lonely. This adds up to 3.7 million people, which is more than a million more than during lockdown 1.0, last year.
Want to know how loneliness levels are, where you live? Choose your area, using the map, below.
This shows that the number of people in the 'often or always' lonely category are double the national average in places which include:
Data was also collected on things like levels of anxiety, happiness in different areas – see how wellbeing is where you live, here.
Of the data, Michael Lloyd, founder of the Mental Health Charter, said: 'One of the primary feelings millions of us have experienced during the coronavirus pandemic is loneliness. Our usual ways of seeing family, friends or just familiar faces have been put on pause.
'What we need to remember is that, while this is a challenging time, it will pass. There will be lots of hugs, shared pots of tea, parties and celebrations in the future. We're urging people who are lonely to join an online group or class that focuses on something they enjoy. This could be anything from an online exercise class to a book review club.'
Marcus Hamilton, founder of the online community, Frindow.com, added: 'Loneliness levels have skyrocketed since the beginning of the pandemic, especially for younger people and those who live alone. The removal of the support networks that we rely upon, such as going to work, the pub and gym, has affected our sense of connection and wellbeing.
'Loneliness can affect anyone but is especially common among the elderly, people who live alone, and young people as they strive to establish a stable and reliable social group. Overcoming loneliness can be difficult but the important thing is to take the sometimes uncomfortable step of engaging with others. Start by talking to people with similar interests or circumstances and, if possible, get involved in activities that have a social element.
'If you are really stuck, consider talking to coach or mentor who will be able to offer practical and achievable milestones that are right for you. Though ostensibly connecting us, social media can also lead to low self-esteem and loneliness as the people you are engaging with may have infinitely more 'friends' and 'likes', and continually share the most exciting aspects of their lives. In that sense, social media can be a truly double-edged sword.'
If you feel lonely, WH is recommending that you take in your 'social 5 a day' – that is five 'socially nutritious' interactions, every 24 hours. In doing so, you feed your 'social biome' – a metaphor coined by Jeffrey Hall, Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Kansas, to describe the medley of contact we have with others. Here's precisely how to get yours.
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