Londonderry is one of the loneliest cities in the UK, according to the results of a survey conducted earlier this month.
A UK-wide survey carried out by Opinium for ‘The Big Lunch’, a project encouraging people to have lunch with neighbours, shows that across the UK more than two thirds of adults experience loneliness.
The feeling is most acute among in young people, the survey found.
In the UK as a whole, 68 per cent of adults say they feel lonely either often, always or sometimes. This is most acute among 18 to 34-year-olds, with 83 per cent of this age group experiencing loneliness.
The figure for Londonderry was amongst the highest with almost three quarters (72 per cent) experiencing loneliness. Belfast was closer to the UK average at 66 per cent.
Almost two in five (38 per cent) of respondents now have less interaction with people they know than they did five years ago, with figures for Belfast and Derry at 44 per cent and 33 per cent respectively. UK-wide, 16 per cent of people only interact socially with others once a week or less.
The Big Lunch, the UK’s annual get-together for neighbours, has been working with Dr Rebecca Harris, a psychologist at the University of Bolton, to assess the changing face of social interaction in the UK. To help those who may be vulnerable to loneliness, it is calling on people across the UK to host a Big Lunch for their neighbours on Sunday 7 June.
The research reveals that UK adults spend only three per cent of their time (48 minutes a day) engaging in social interaction and, in a typical week, interact with only six friends, family members or neighbours – be it a face-to-face conversation, a phone call or chatting online.
On average, women spend 10 minutes longer interacting socially each day than men. Of the ten major cities in the survey, people in Belfast have the most interaction, averaging 61 minutes a day.
Over a quarter (28 per cent) of respondents across the UK wish they had more friends but a third (33 per cent) admit they find it harder to make new friends than they did 10 years ago, with one in 10 (11 per cent) of this group saying they do not know how to start friendships any more.
While the impact that loneliness has on older people has been widely acknowledged, The Big Lunch survey reveals that many younger people are also lonely.
16 per cent of 18 to 34-year-olds across the UK comment that they always feel lonely but around half (48 per cent) of people aged 55+ say they never feel lonely. More than two in five (43 per cent) of 18 to 34-year-olds wish they had more friends and 15 per cent of young people who say they find it harder to make friends nowadays are “too scared” to talk to people they do not know.
As a result of the survey, The Big Lunch and Dr Harris have created ‘The Four Personalities of Social Interaction’ which enables people to self-identify how much social interaction they may need and help them find opportunities to connect with others. Based on the survey, the majority of UK adults have a small number of close friends, making them ‘Casual Confidants’ or ‘Long-Term Investors’, while the rest of the population are either ‘Self-Assured Soloists’ who are happiest alone or ‘Social Butterflies’ with many connections.
Dr Rebecca Harris of the University of Bolton comments: “The findings show that we’re spending less time having social interaction than we used to, we have fewer friends than we’d like and we’re finding it harder to make new friends. This decline in social contact could be contributing to the rise of loneliness in the UK. Loneliness is far more complicated than people imagine. It’s often seen as a one dimensional state, either ‘lonely’ or ‘not lonely’ and that just isn’t the case. It can be a temporary state, but when prolonged, it’s a serious issue. Research shows that our brains treat loneliness in the same way as physical pain and it has been associated with poor mental and physical health, so it’s important that people take steps to overcome loneliness.”
Sir Tim Smit KBE, Executive Vice Chairman and Co-Founder of the Eden Project and The Big Lunch, says: “With three in five people in our survey admitting that more social interaction would help them to feel less lonely, The Big Lunch is even more important in 2015 than it was when we launched it six years ago. In the tens of thousands of neighbourhoods around the UK where Big Lunches have taken place, people often comment how it has helped to build community spirit and make their street a happier and less lonely place. This year, we’d like to see at least one in 10 people across the UK get involved in The Big Lunch on Sunday 7 June so that they too can experience all the benefits.”
Commenting on the research, Dame Esther Rantzen DBE, Founder of ChildLine and The Silver Line helplines, says: “Loneliness has become an epidemic in the UK. This survey highlights how loneliness affects both young people and the older generation, while other research shows that it can contribute to depression and other serious risks to health. Having received more than 400,000 calls since The Silver Line launched in 2013, most callers tell us they literally have nobody else to talk to. As one caller told us, “When I put the phone down, I feel like I’ve joined the human race”. The Big Lunch gives us all the chance to reach out to our neighbours and have fun together – that may lead to new friendships and the feeling that we are all, whatever our age, part of the same human race.”