Well-Being Mental Health

Loneliness increased globally due to the pandemic, study finds

“We think that loneliness should be made a priority in large-scale research projects aimed at investigating the health outcomes of the pandemic,” the study’s lead author said.

Story at a glance

  • A team of researchers reviewed 34 studies from four continents, covering more than 200,000 participants. 

  • Each individual study measured participants’ loneliness both before and during the pandemic. 

  • Although not all the studies — or age groups — showed a marked increase in loneliness, researchers found that the rate of loneliness rose 5 percent overall.

Loneliness increased across the world during the coronavirus pandemic as lockdowns and other mitigation measures led to higher levels of isolation, according to a new study published Monday.  

A team of researchers, led by Mareike Ernst of Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz in Germany, reviewed 34 studies from four continents covering more than 200,000 participants. Each individual study measured participants’ loneliness both before and during the pandemic.  

Although not all the studies — or age groups — showed a marked increase in loneliness, researchers found that the rate of loneliness rose 5 percent overall.  

But, Ernst cautioned that the findings may not in fact show a “loneliness pandemic.”  

“The pandemic does appear to have increased loneliness,” Ernst said. “Given the small effect sizes, dire warnings about a ‘loneliness pandemic’ may be overblown.” 

“However, as loneliness constitutes a risk for premature mortality and mental and physical health, it should be closely monitored,” Ernst continued. “We think that loneliness should be made a priority in large-scale research projects aimed at investigating the health outcomes of the pandemic.” 

Ernst concluded that more research is needed to measure the correlation between lockdowns and a decline in social interactions and the increase in loneliness.  

“Strong evidence supporting interventions addressing loneliness remains limited. The increase in loneliness associated with the pandemic highlights the need for a concerted effort to strengthen that evidence base,” Ernst said.  


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The study, published in American Psychologist, adds to a growing body of research evaluating the relationship between the pandemic and mental health generally. Several recent studies indicate COVID-19 had a profound effect on children and young adults in the U.S. 

An April study by the University of California, San Francisco found that nearly half of young adults experienced mental health symptoms during the pandemic’s second year.   

Yet, the teams’ findings showed a decline from a year prior. A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found 63 percent of young adults experienced symptoms of depression or anxiety in June 2020. 

Meanwhile, polling released late last month shows nearly three-quarters of young adults across the country believe “the United States has a mental health crisis.”  

Fifty-two percent of young adults surveyed by the Institute for Politics at Harvard Kennedy School reported experiencing feelings of depression and hopelessness, and nearly a quarter said they had thought about self-harm.


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