As life begins to get back to normal, we reveal the levels of lockdown loneliness in Bedford
Confinement has taken its toll on town
Nearly half of people in Bedford who say the coronavirus pandemic has affected their well-being put it down to “lockdown loneliness”, new figures suggest.
And as lockdown eases with pub gardens, shops and hairdressers reopening today (Monday, April 12), mental health charities have called for people's mental health and wellbeing to be made a priority in the recovery from Covid-19.
An Office for National Statistics (ONS) survey conducted between October 14 and February 22 asked people aged 16 and over if their wellbeing had been affected in the last seven days by the pandemic.
Of those in Bedford who said it had, 47.5 per cent attributed this to being lonely – across Britain, the average was 38.6 per cent.
The ONS said young people were more likely to suffer from this form of “lockdown loneliness”.
Bedford Samaritans branch director, Rachel, said: "Over the last 12 months the world has changed a great deal, many of our callers have struggled with isolation and loneliness during lockdown and have needed emotional support more than ever. I’m incredibly proud that our volunteers have been able to answer over 15,500 calls and reply to 4,000 emails during the last year.”
Samaritans research has also identified that there are three groups who have been affected most by the coronavirus restrictions - middle-aged men, young people and those with a pre-existing mental health condition.
Tom Madders, director of campaigns at mental health charity YoungMinds, said young people have experienced loneliness and isolation as Covid-19 has limited their social lives, education, or led to job losses.
“It’s important that young people know where to go to get support for their mental health if they are struggling and that they can access help as soon as they need it,” he added.
“As we emerge from the pandemic, we’d like the Government to introduce a national network of early intervention hubs, with one in every community, where young people can find mental health support alongside advice on education and employment.”
The survey also found that 6.4 per cent of adults in Bedford said they felt lonely “often” or “always”, although the ONS cautioned that this was based on a small sample of the local population.
Areas with younger populations and those with higher unemployment rates tended to see increased levels of loneliness, the latest research found.
The feeling was also more pronounced in urban areas than rural locations.
But places with strong local businesses and adult education fared better on average.
“The widespread disruption of the pandemic has highlighted that loneliness can be driven not solely by the absence of friends and family, but also the lack of face-to-face connection in the workplace and in the communities around us,” said Lucy Schonegevel, associate director for policy and practice at the charity Rethink Mental Illness.
Developing community schemes and support groups could help people recover from the pandemic, she added.
Ms Schonegevel also called for more social prescribing, whereby health professionals can recommend activities such as gardening or sports to improve people’s wellbeing, as a possible alternative to more traditional treatments.
She said: “These initiatives can provide a lifeline to people experiencing loneliness, particularly for those living with mental illness who may be more prone to feeling isolated.”
Now more than ever Bedford Samaritans needs the public's support with donations or fundraising opportunities.