Researchers find resilience, not loneliness in nationwide study of pandemic response
Social distancing during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has not led to an overall increase in loneliness among Americans, according to a new study by Florida State University published in the journal American Psychologist.
For the study, researchers surveyed more than 2,000 people before and during the enactment of stay-at-home policies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The paper is part of a larger study College of Medicine researchers are doing on COVID-19 to look at changes in mental health during the COVID-19 crisis and how psychological factors contribute to various aspects of response to the pandemic.
The study involved a nationwide panel of adults ages 18 to 98. Participants first completed a survey in early February unrelated to COVID-19, before the virus was widely known to be a threat to the United States. As the threat was being realized, researchers contacted participants again for two more surveys, one in mid-March during the 15-day period to slow the spread based on White House guidelines and another in late April as the guidelines were about to expire.
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. 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, according to the study.
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 report experiencing loneliness at least some of the time. Some studies suggest that loneliness is even more pervasive among younger adults.
Yet from the start of the pandemic, there have been anecdotal reports of people calling their family and friends more often and finding creative ways to stay connected. This outpouring of support may have shielded them from potential increases in loneliness, the researchers said.