Pandemic one year on: study reveals anxiety rates fall, but loneliness soars

Katie Hoare
By Katie Hoare,
updated on Mar 22, 2021

Pandemic one year on: study reveals anxiety rates fall, but loneliness soars

Landmark study on the emotional impact of of the pandemic reveals mixed picture, as anxiety rates fall from 62% to 42%, but loneliness has risen, from 10% to 26%

As we approach the one year anniversary of the first national lockdown (23 March 2020), new results from a landmark study Mental Health in the pandemic has revealed that the UK may appear less anxious as we come out the otherside of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, loneliness has become much more commonplace, and feelings of hopelessness and ability to cope with stress have sadly seen an increase.

Among the 4,251 that were surveyed in February 2021, loneliness rose from 10% to 26% compared to the responses in March 2020. The study revealed that 18-24 years olds were hit the hardest with loneliness, a worrying increase the UK has seen for a number of years now, with 48% saying that they felt lonely as a result of the pandemic. This is almost double the rate of loneliness among UK adults in general.

These feelings of isolation and loneliness have not returned to pre-lockdown levels, even when restrictions were lifted over the summer last year. This suggests the pandemic has had a deeply profound impact on connection between people, which is essential for emotional support.

The study, carried out by the Mental Health Foundation in partnership with the universities of Cambridge, Swansea, de Montfort Leicester, Strathclyde and Queen’s Belfast, reported that fewer adults revealed they were coping well with stress in the pandemic, falling from 73% in April last year, to 64% this year. This steady decline talks to the feelings of hopelessness across the population, staying steady at 18% and the rise in feelings about suicide, which rose from 8% to 13% over the past year.

Dr Antonis Kousoulis, Director for England and Wales at the Mental Health Foundation, said: “The study has tracked the pandemic’s impacts on our mental health for a year now.

"What we see is a complex picture – on some measures, UK adults are feeling better than in March 2020 but on others, we are feeling no better or worse.

Fewer of us are feeling anxious about the pandemic but more of us now feel lonely and ground down by the stress of the past year.

“It is absolutely important to remember that the experience of the past year has not been shared by everyone. We have all been in the same storm, but we have not all been in the same boat. The Coronavirus vaccine brings hope. The warmer weather brings smiles. However, for many of us, the next few months – and even years – will remain tough, vulnerable and uncertain.”

These words certainly ring true from Dr Kousoulis, as the study revealed that those who are most at risk of feeling distressed included young adults (18-24-year-olds), full-time students, people who are unemployed, single parents and those with long-term disabling health problems and pre-existing problems with their mental health, compared with UK adults generally.

The Mental Health Foundation is now set to invest at least £1 million in programmes specifically for some of the groups who have been hardest hit by the pandemic. These include people of colour, single parents and those with long-term health conditions.

“One of our key aims, when we launched the Study a year ago, was to identify what was happening across the UK population and whether some groups were particularly seriously affected. This was designed to help us as a charity - and policy-makers - to target support for some of the most vulnerable people," added Dr Kousoulis.

Where to find support

The pandemic has undoubtedly affected your life in some way, and at times can be incredibly frightening and overwhelming. When times become tough to face, it’s important to remember that help is always available, and having a toolkit of resources can help you find the light in some very dark moments.

A listening ear is always available at Samaritans, 24/7, 365 days a year. Call 116 123 for free, or email [email protected]. In their own words, they’re waiting for your call.

If you need to talk, a safe space to work through your worries and move forward can be found with any of the professionals listed on Counselling Directory.

Loneliness is often shrouded in stigma, particularly for young people. But it shouldn’t be that way, and loneliness is sadly very common. In this article, we ask the experts how to deal with loneliness?

If you’re struggling to make time for yourself, learn how the power of writing as therapy can be an essential tool in processing your emotions.

The thought of restrictions ending and getting back to ‘normal’ can be a welcome thought, but for some, this can fuel anxiety and fear. Here are 5 tips to help ease yourself out of lockdown.

Join 100,000+ subscribers

Stay in the loop with everything Happiful

We care about your data, read our privacy policy
Our Vision

We’re on a mission to create a healthier, happier, more sustainable society.