Loneliness and mental health
New Government research, published in June, has found a direct link between loneliness and poor mental health.
Published in June to coincide with Loneliness Awareness Week, the independent report shows a two-way link between chronic loneliness – people reporting that they ‘often’ or ‘always’ feel lonely – and mental health distress.
In other words, being lonely can negatively affect your mental health, and mental health concerns can lead to loneliness.
Young people and disabled people more at risk
To create the report, researchers from the independent National Centre for Social Research analysed data from more than 35,000 people over a period of six years. As well as the relationship between loneliness and mental health, they looked at whether certain groups of people are disproportionately affected by loneliness.
They found that the risk of chronic loneliness was:
- Five times greater for young people aged 16–34 than those aged 65 or older
- Almost three times greater for people with a disability or long-term health condition
- More than double for people who identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual
The report suggests that support for loneliness which targets particular groups could be the answer to reducing mental health problems in the wider community.
Loneliness in London
In London, the Government’s findings have been reflected in a report commissioned by the Greater London Authority’s Social Integration Unit.
‘Reconceptualising Loneliness in London’, which was produced by a group of three independent community research bodies, found that more than 700,000 Londoners – almost 8% of the city’s population – feel lonely ‘always’ or ‘most of the time’. Again, loneliness is shown to affect some groups disproportionately – 12% of young people and 18% of Deaf and Disabled Londoners, for example.
In response to the new research, the Government has said that it will come up with a ‘renewed effort’ to tackle loneliness, including developing targeted support for certain groups. In the meantime, the report suggests some ways that people can help themselves and each other.
For those who are feeling lonely, it suggests:
- Keeping in touch with people such as your family, friends and neighbours
- Asking for help from people – for example, asking if someone can shop or collect medicines for you
- Creating regular social routines for yourself, such as going online or taking a walk
For those worried about other people, it suggests:
- Making the effort to call a friend or family member who might be lonely
- Smiling, waving or stopping to chat with neighbours
- Volunteering to do small tasks that could reduce loneliness, such as picking up food or medicine, or making regular conversation with someone who lives alone.