What is it about?

Quite soon after the start of the pandemic and after many countries had implemented physical distancing measures, potential increases in loneliness became a focus of public debate. As loneliness is associated with negative physical, emotional, and cognitive health outcomes, it is an urgent public health concern, and whether loneliness has increased is an important question. This study pooled original research from around the world and found that there was indeed an increase in loneliness. This result was based on data from over 200,000 participants from four continents. Most of the studies were longitudinal, which means that they had assessed the same participants before and during the pandemic. The finding was also statistically robust. However, the overall change in loneliness was small and heterogeneous, suggesting the need for further investigations of risk and protective factors as the pandemic progresses.

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Why is it important?

It was often taken as a proven fact that more people have become lonely during the COVID-19 pandemic, yet, based on the many empirical studies, it was difficult to conclude whether this was true. For instance, there were inconsistent findings and studies used different designs, had different timelines, and varied in quality. This is why this study approached the question of whether loneliness has increased more systematically, including a statistical synthesis and scrutiny of potential biases. It is the most comprehensive summary of original, international research on the topic to date and it yields essential evidence, e.g., for decision-makers in the fields of health care and policy decisions.


Speaking about loneliness is crucial: While it can be considered a normal, non-pathological reaction to changing circumstances and many people experience it at some point in their lives, the ongoing pandemic could also compromise lonely individuals’ efforts to reconnect with others. We think there is a need to establish a global monitoring system for loneliness and that loneliness should be made a priority in large-scale research projects aimed at investigating the health outcomes of the pandemic. We hope that a growing awareness of social needs and a destigmatisation of loneliness also opens up new opportunities to take action.

Mareike Ernst
Johannes Gutenberg Universitat Mainz

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Loneliness before and during the COVID-19 pandemic: A systematic review with meta-analysis., American Psychologist, May 2022, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/amp0001005.
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