Lonely millennials more likely to have mental health problems

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LONELY young adults are more likely to have mental health problems, to have self-harmed or attempted suicide, and use technology compulsively, new research has shown.

The study by King’s College London highlights the importance of early intervention to prevent young adults being “trapped” in loneliness as they age.

Researchers spoke to more than 2,000 British 18-year-olds and found that a quarter reported feeling lonely some of the time, while seven per cent said they felt lonely often. The findings mirror a recent ONS survey which found that loneliness was more common among 16 to 24-year-olds than any other age group.

Lead author Dr Timothy Matthews said: “It’s often assumed that loneliness is an affliction of old age, but it is also very common among younger people. Unlike many other risk factors, loneliness does not discriminate: it affects people from all walks of life; men and women, rich and poor.”

Lonely young adults were more than twice as likely to have mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, and to have self-harmed or attempted suicide. They were also more likely to have seen their GP or a counsellor for mental health problems in the past year.

In addition, lonelier young adults were more likely to be out of work and education and were less confident about their career prospects. One in five people in the loneliest 10 per cent were not in education, employment or training, compared to one in 10 non-lonely young people.

Lonelier young people were also less likely to be physically active, more likely to smoke, and more likely to use technology compulsively at the expense of other activities and obligations.

Dr Matthews added: “Our findings suggest that if someone tells their GP or a friend that they feel lonely, that could be a red flag that they’re struggling in a range of other areas in life. There are lots of community initiatives to try and encourage people to get together and take part in shared activities. However, it’s important to remember that some people can feel lonely in a crowd, and the most effective interventions to reduce loneliness involve counselling to help individuals tackle negative patterns of thinking.”

The Yorkshire Post has been campaigning to raise awareness of loneliness since 2014.