A study of 2,000 adults, conducted by Santander, found that recent restrictions have exacerbated the UK’s loneliness problem with a fifth of respondents saying they have felt increasingly isolated over the last three months.
The findings showed that more than a fifth of people believe the pandemic has put a strain on existing friendships because close acquaintances have failed to reach out to them, while 14 per cent fear they have lost friends forever as a result of not being able to visit them in person.
One in 10 of those surveyed also admitted to knowingly breaking lockdown rules so they could see friends and family because they felt so lonely.
Sue Willis, trustee of the Santander Foundation, said the data reflects the impact lockdown has had on people's mental health.
“It is heartbreaking to see the impact it has had on some people’s lives and friendships,” Willis said.
“While coronavirus has put the spotlight on some of these issues of loneliness, we are committed to providing long term support for vulnerable people in our communities who suffer from loneliness through our work with charities.”
The study also found that, prior to the lockdown, a quarter of people often went several days without speaking to anyone at all, and this has not necessarily improved since the restrictions were introduced, with 37 per cent saying they have gone several days with no social contact.
Furthermore, 26 per cent of adults admitted to currently feeling lonely, with one in 10 finding this the most challenging aspect of the lockdown.
Despite experiencing feelings of isolation, more than half of those polled have not shared their struggles with someone else, with a third of those saying they chose not to open up because they did not want to worry anyone.
Instead, 40 per cent of those struggling with loneliness said they have taken to comfort eating, while a quarter now regularly exceed the recommended alcohol consumption limit.
The study also indicated that older people could be more vulnerable to feeling lonely, with nearly three quarters of over 55s saying they have struggled during the lockdown and two thirds admitting they have not spoken to anyone about their emotions.
People living alone were also among those most affected, with 38 per cent saying they currently feel alone, an increase of 14 per cent compared to those who reside with someone else.
Further to this, those living alone had gone an average of 11 days without talking to anyone at all since the lockdown came into effect on 23 March.
To help combat loneliness, Santander UK employees have started signing up to volunteer with the Alzheimer’s Society and Age UK charities. Participants will place regular social phone calls to isolated people and those living with dementia, distribute support leaflets, deliver groceries, help older people get online and develop their digital skills, and become ‘Dementia Friends’.
Age UK and Alzheimer’s Society have provided a series of tips for anyone wanting to make phone calls to vulnerable people:
First impressions count - The first 30 seconds of your conversation are crucial, so smile while you speak – even if they can’t see you – to help your voice express your interest, enthusiasm and confidence.
Have a friendly chat - Rather than bombarding them with questions, listen out for things that spark their interest - you’re there for a friendly chat, not an interview.
Chat about the past - Ask about the past and what life was like growing up instead of talking about the current situation - it’ll lead to better conversations.
Take your time - If the person you are chatting to is struggling to hear you clearly, try speaking more slowly rather than upping the volume.
That awkward silence - Don’t worry about long pauses in conversation - it gives everyone time to gather their thoughts.