Social distancing during the Covid-19 pandemic has not led to an overall increase in loneliness among Americans as most of them felt more supported by others than before the pandemic, a new survey has revealed.
"Despite a small increase among some individuals, we found overall remarkable resilience in response to Covid-19," said Angelina Sutin, associate professor of Behavioral Sciences and Social Medicine at Florida State University.
Fear of Dramatic Increase of Loneliness
The nationwide study surveyed more than 2,000 people before and during the enactment of stay-at-home policies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. There has been a lot of worry that loneliness would increase dramatically because of the social distancing guidelines and restrictions.
"Contrary to this fear, we found that overall loneliness did not increase. Instead, people felt more supported by others than before the pandemic. Even while physically isolated, the feeling of increased social support and of being in this together may help limit increases in loneliness," said Martina Luchetti, an assistant professor at the College of Medicine.
The paper is part of larger study researchers are doing on Covid-19 to look at changes in mental health. The study also looked for increased loneliness in specific at-risk groups, finding only modest evidence of a small increase in loneliness among older adults.
Loneliness Linked To Morbidity and Mortality
Older adults reported less loneliness overall compared to younger age groups, despite an increase in loneliness during the acute phase of the outbreak. That increase in feelings of loneliness among older adults was temporary, leveling off after the issuance of stay-at-home orders.
Individuals living alone and those with at least one chronic condition reported feeling lonelier at the outset but did not increase in loneliness after social-distancing measures were implemented. Loneliness already was a known health risk before the pandemic, and it has been linked to increased risks of morbidity and mortality.
Surveys have found that 35 percent of adults 45 and older report feeling lonely and 43 percent of those over 60 reported experiencing loneliness at least some of the time. Some studies suggest that loneliness is even more pervasive among younger adults. "In the context of the coronavirus pandemic, it may be particularly difficult to reconnect with others given the restrictions on in-person social gatherings," Luchetti said.
Just knowing that you are not alone and that everyone is going through the same restrictions and difficulties may be enough in the short term to keep feelings of loneliness down," Sutin added.