Cross-departmental Government commitment is needed if we are to make an impact on the increasing levels of loneliness felt by all sectors of society, a charity has warned, after one of the largest ever surveys on the issue.
Young people are more lonely than older people, and experience loneliness more intensely than any other age group, a survey of 55,000 people on behalf of the BBC found.
In total, 40 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds admitted to feeling lonely often or very often, compared to 27 per cent of over 75s.
Researchers from the universities of Manchester, Exeter and Brunel in London, also found that not all loneliness was perceived in a negative way - with 83 per cent of respondents saying they liked being on their own, and 41 per cent saying loneliness can sometimes be a positive experience.
The research also revealed an insight into the lives of the lonely, with people who feel lonely saying they had more ‘online only’ Facebook friends; and that dating was the least helpful solution to their loneliness suggested by others.
Study leader, psychology professor Pamela Qualter, from the University of Manchester, said people had provided “valuable insights” into when and how loneliness is experienced, and how it relates to “age, being alone, caring responsibilities, employability, and discrimination”.
“For me, the most interesting findings relate to the stigma of loneliness and the varied solutions people had to overcome loneliness”, she said. “Those findings suggest that we need to be kinder to ourselves when we feel disconnected from others, but also that there is a whole toolkit of potential solutions that we can try.”
The Campaign to End Loneliness’s director of campaigns, policy and research, Sam Dick, said the survey’s findings came “at a critical moment”.
He said: “With the Government due to publish its strategy on loneliness later this month, the survey results demonstrate that for real change to be achieved, clear and practical commitments need to be made by a number of Government departments. Without these, we won’t see the progress on loneliness we need.
“Decisions made at a national level will make the difference between people remaining connected with friends and family, or going for weeks on end without seeing anyone.
“We know loneliness can affect people at any age, and it is very positive to see that younger people are able to be open about their experiences. The stigma of loneliness is deeply isolating and we hope younger people can help drive a change in culture that will eradicate that stigma.
“However, we know that older people tend to feel the stigma of loneliness more. In spite of what the results indicate, we need to remain vigilant to ensure the unique and significant experiences of older people are not overlooked. We urge the Government not to neglect the growing needs of an ageing population.”
In January, shortly before the fourth anniversary of the Yorkshire Post’s award winning Loneliness: The Hidden Epidemic campaign, Theresa May announced a raft of measures to tackle loneliness - including the development of a strategy on loneliness.
Speaking about the BBC survey, a department for digital, culture, media and sport spokesperson said: “Loneliness can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender or background. We are committed to reducing the stigma around loneliness and helping people build strong and lasting connections. Our upcoming Loneliness Strategy will be an important step in tackling this issue.”