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How loneliness is holding millennials back in life

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Susan Devaney
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Millennials who feel lonely are more likely to have mental health problems, be out of work and feel like they won’t succeed in life, a study has found. 

It’s often a word we associate with the elderly than young people, but loneliness in young people is on the rise in 2018.

Earlier this month, the Office for National Statistics released data confirming that 10% of young people, aged 16 to 24, feel lonely on a regular basis. Alarmingly, it stands at three times more than over-64s, and more than any other adult age group.

Now, a study has delved deeper into the detrimental effects of loneliness. By quizzing 2,066 participants, the researchers asked questions about how often they feel lonely, categorising their answers into ‘often’, ‘sometimes’ or ‘hardly ever’. And they asked each person about their mental health, physical health, life satisfaction, relationship with technology and family environments - without focusing on gender or socioeconomic status.

The data collected found that millennials who feel lonely are more likely to have mental health problems, be out of work and feel like they won’t succeed in life. This has led researchers to believe that it’s now imperative loneliness in young people is taken seriously, as it could be a potential warning sign for bigger issues.

“If somebody discloses to their friends or family, or a GP, that they feel lonely a lot of the time, that could be a warning sign that they are struggling in other areas of life,” said Dr Timothy Matthews, co-author of the study from King’s College London.

Thankfully, loneliness in young people is being talked about a lot more than ever before.

The results reveal that up to 7% of young people often feel lonely, with 23-31% saying they experienced feeling left out, alone, isolated or lacking company. However, the researchers noted that the study has its limitations as it only focused on young people aged 18 and more research is required to see the full extent of loneliness on young people.

“What we wanted to do was … a study that gives a snapshot of the lives of young people in the UK who are suffering from loneliness,” Matthews told The Guardian.

The research found that participants with a higher level of loneliness were more likely to engage in “physical health risk behaviours”. These individuals were also less likely to be physically active, more likely to smoke, and more likely to use technology more frequently.

The impact of loneliness even affects careers and education. A fifth of the loneliest participants were found to not be in education, employment or training of some kind.

Previous studies have shown that people who feel lonely are 50% more likely to experience an early death and scientists believe loneliness is as dangerous to our health as smoking cigarettes or being obese.

In 2017, a study revealed found that people who spent two hours on social media a day perceived themselves to be twice as lonely as those who spent just 30 minutes or less online. The number was higher still for anyone who logged in on more than 58 occasions per week. These users felt three times the amount of perceived loneliness.

Thankfully, loneliness in young people is being talked about a lot more than ever before - and there is help available for those experiencing it. If you feel lonely you can call the Samaritans in the UK on 116 123. Alternatively, you reach Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am – 6pm on 0300 123 3393.

Images: Unsplash / Getty 

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Susan Devaney

Susan Devaney is a digital journalist for Stylist.co.uk, writing about fashion, beauty, travel, feminism, and everything else in-between.

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