Young people in the UK experienced higher levels of loneliness than older people after a year of isolation and mental health turmoil caused by lockdowns, new figures suggest.
The Office for National Statistics research, released on Wednesday, found that 2.6 million adults reported feeling lonely often or always in the period from April 3 to May 3 last year.
The figure increased to 3.7 million adults between October 2020 and February 2021, during which time two lockdowns were enforced in England.
Between October 2020 and February 2021, of those who said their well-being had been affected in the past seven days by the pandemic, 38.6 per cent, said it was because they were lonely.
People aged between 16 and 24 were almost four times more likely to experience loneliness using the seven-day measure than those aged 75 and over.
Schools in England were closed to pupils except those of key workers from the Christmas holidays until March.
Researchers found parts of the UK with a lower average age generally had higher rates of “lockdown loneliness”, and that higher rates of loneliness among young people were “particularly associated with urban areas outside London”.
People who were unemployed, in areas with higher crime rates or with higher levels of anxiety were also more likely to report feeling lonely.
Living in a single-person household, difficulties with relationships caused by the pandemic and not having anyone to talk to all contributed to experiences of loneliness.
“The odds of people who said they had no one to talk to reporting lockdown loneliness were almost 10 times greater than those who did have someone to talk to,” the statistics office said.
“Respondents who said they felt very uncomfortable leaving the house were also more likely to report lockdown loneliness compared with those who felt very comfortable leaving the house.
“One-person households were also more likely to report lockdown loneliness compared with two-person households.”
Up to 5,000 people are polled each week for the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey.
Scientists previously said there could be an “anxiety pandemic” when the UK emerges from lockdown.
A local doctor in England, Dr William Bird, said Britain’s National Health Service would need to recruit more counsellors to offer support to people who would struggle with the increased level of face-to-face contact.
“I feel we really need to ramp up the system in the NHS to be able to deal with this anxiety pandemic which is going to hit us in the summer and into the next year or two,” he said.
“It’s probably a huge service that’s going to be required to deal with this. Of course, you have long Covid, which has created its own problems with depression and anxiety.”