A US study has found that social distancing measures during lockdown haven’t led to more loneliness
A study looking at psychological responses to the COVID-19 pandemic has found that social distancing measures haven’t contributed significantly to feelings of loneliness. Instead, researchers at the Florida State University College of Medicine found that people tended to become more resilient.
The findings, published in American Psychologist, are based on surveys involving more than 2,000 Americans who lived throughout the enactment of stay-at-home orders. Participants who had taken part in a survey prior to the pandemic were surveyed again in late April.
“Contrary to [our initial] fear, we found that overall loneliness did not increase. Instead, people felt more supported by others than before the pandemic,” explained lead author Martina Luchetti, an assistant professor at the College of Medicine.
“Even while physically isolated, the feeling of increased social support and of being in this together may have helped limit increases in loneliness.”
Luchetti noted that more people have gotten into the habit of connecting with their friends by phone or Zoom calls more often than they did before the start of the pandemic.
Researchers initially thought the oldest participants would report the most feelings of loneliness, but only minor increases were reported, and feelings of loneliness usually dissipated soon after stay-at-home orders eased. Instead, feelings of loneliness were more common among youth, which is consistent with the findings of previous research.
Those who did experience feelings of loneliness saw them peak at the onset of the pandemic, and tended to live alone or with a chronic medical condition.
“Despite a small increase among some individuals, we found overall remarkable resilience in response to COVID-19,” noted Angelina Sutin, a lead author of the study and an associate professor of behavioural sciences and social medicine at the university.
“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.”
The study was part of a larger project to investigate the effects of the pandemic on mental health.