Loneliness is a significant public health issue. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in lockdown measures limiting social contact. The UK public are worried about the impact of these measures on mental health outcomes. Understanding the prevalence and predictors of loneliness at this time is a priority issue for research.
The study employed a cross-sectional online survey design. Baseline data collected between March 23rd and April 24th 2020 from UK adults in the COVID-19 Psychological Wellbeing Study were analysed (N = 1964, 18–87 years, M = 37.11, SD = 12.86, 70% female). Logistic regression analysis examined the influence of sociodemographic, social, health and COVID-19 specific factors on loneliness.
The prevalence of loneliness was 27% (530/1964). Risk factors for loneliness were younger age group (OR: 4.67–5.31), being separated or divorced (OR: 2.29), scores meeting clinical criteria for depression (OR: 1.74), greater emotion regulation difficulties (OR: 1.04), and poor quality sleep due to the COVID-19 crisis (OR: 1.30). Higher levels of social support (OR: 0.92), being married/co-habiting (OR: 0.35) and living with a greater number of adults (OR: 0.87) were protective factors.
Rates of loneliness during the initial phase of lockdown were high. Risk factors were not specific to the COVID-19 crisis. Findings suggest that supportive interventions to reduce loneliness should prioritise younger people and those with mental health symptoms. Improving emotion regulation and sleep quality, and increasing social support may be optimal initial targets to reduce the impact of COVID-19 regulations on mental health outcomes.