Hundreds of thousands of people experience loneliness but many feel ashamed and unable to talk about it, although it can have a negative impact on mental health, according to new research.
A survey commissioned by Mental Health Foundation (MHF) found that a quarter of people (25%) in Scotland said they felt lonely some or all of the time in the previous month, while more than three quarters (78%) said they had felt lonely at some point in the last year.
Almost one third (31%) of the 1000 Scots surveyed said feelings of loneliness had a negative impact on their mental health, however more than half (51%) said they would hide their feelings of loneliness from others.
More than a quarter (27%) said they feel ashamed about being lonely and almost four in 10 (39%) said they would never admit to feeling that way.
The research was released by MHF on Monday for Mental Health Awareness Week, which this year has the theme of loneliness.
The theme was chosen because loneliness can damage mental health and feelings of loneliness surged during the lockdowns.
MHF said that loneliness needs to be treated as a public health issue with action from government, communities and individuals to help prevent mental health problems.
Julie Cameron, associate director of Mental Health Foundation in Scotland, said: “Our research shows that loneliness is affecting hundreds of thousands of people across Scotland.
“This is very concerning as long-term loneliness can potentially lead to mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, and it is also associated with increased thoughts of suicide.
“Yet, so many of us are embarrassed or ashamed to admit when we’re feeling lonely.”
The research found that one in seven adults in Scotland (14%) said feelings of loneliness have led to suicidal thoughts and feelings.
MHF said that loneliness is not about the number of friends we have, how much time we spend on our own, or something which happens when we reach a certain age, but is the feeling we experience when there is a mismatch between the meaningful social connections we want and those we have.
The charity is inviting people to share their experiences of loneliness and how it has affected their mental health using the hashtag #IveBeenThere.
It is hoped this can help to open up conversations, increase understanding and reduce stigma about loneliness.
The Mental Health Foundation in Scotland is calling on the Scottish Government to ensure that implementation of its A Connected Scotland loneliness strategy includes consideration of the mental health impact of loneliness, particularly for the groups of people who are more at risk of being lonely.
The charity is also asking for the new five-year social isolation and loneliness plan to deliver targeted support where it is most needed, with additional funding streams and actions to tackle the mental health problems which can arise as a consequence.
It will also be urging newly elected councils to commit to taking action to help reduce social isolation in our communities.
The survey of 1000 Scottish adults was carried out in February and March 2022.
Christina McKelvie, Minister for Equalities and Older People, said: “We understand that social isolation and loneliness can affect anyone at any point in their life and A Connected Scotland – our first national strategy to tackle social isolation and loneliness – is a significant step forward in tackling these issues, backed by £10m funding over this parliamentary term.
“We have continued to work with Public Health Scotland and mental health partners to ensure loneliness and social isolation remain at the forefront of our approach throughout the pandemic and beyond.
“Just yesterday we announced a further £15m for the second year of the Communities Mental Health and Wellbeing Fund, which has supported nearly 2000 projects.
“This investment reflects the importance we place on promoting good mental health and early intervention for those facing mental health challenges – ensuring that people can access a range of different types of support to match their needs.
“It will help us to continue to support a range of valuable community mental health and wellbeing projects across Scotland.”