Loneliness affects younger people – much more than older people

16 June 2020

Loneliness affects people at all stages of life. But young people, in their late teens and early 20s, are significantly more likely to be affected than older age groups, says a study.

Findings show one in 20 adults in England feel lonely often or all of the time – and social media may be exacerbating the problem, particularly among younger generations.

The figures were released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which was tasked with compiling data as part of a Government drive to tackle loneliness.

Five per cent of those aged 16 and over in England report feeling lonely often or all of the time, while 16% feel lonely sometimes, and 24% occasionally.

Compared with nearly all other age groups, those aged 16-24 are significantly more likely to report feeling lonely often or always.

The Mental Health Foundation says loneliness is “not necessarily down to a lack of people”. “This is particularly true of the digital world, where teens can have thousands of friends online and yet feel unsupported and isolated,” they say. “Technology, including social media, could be exacerbating social isolation.” By comparison: “The vast majority of young people we ask say that spending time face-to-face with others improves their mental health.”

Women report feeling lonely more often than men, the ONS report says, although it notes that men may be more reluctant to report undesirable feelings such as loneliness.

Renters, widowers and widows, single people, the unemployed and those in poor health are likely to feel lonely most frequently.

Analysis identifies three profiles of people at particular risk from loneliness: widowed older homeowners living alone with long-term health conditions, unmarried middle-agers with long-term health conditions, and younger renters who have “little trust and sense of belonging to their area”.

The Campaign to End Loneliness says: “Loneliness is not simply the result of someone’s personality or character; it’s vital to acknowledge contributors to loneliness such as health and economic status.”

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