COVID-19 sparks epidemic of loneliness among Canadians

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COVID-19 sparks epidemic of loneliness among Canadians

The COVID-19 pandemic has sparked an epidemic of loneliness, with six in ten Canadians admitting to feeling the impact of social isolation, according to a new study. Researchers, however, also found that forming new or re-establishing social connections was key to better life satisfaction and happiness.

A recent survey of more than 3,800 Canadians revealed that 60% of respondents felt lonely several times a week since the coronavirus crisis began, while 45% reported feeling isolated every day.

The study conducted by The Genwell Project and researchers from the University of Victoria during the third wave of the pandemic, from April 27 to June 1, examined the patterns of social connection among participants and found a significant degree of social disruption brought about by COVID-19.

The research showed that the rate of loneliness across generations was above 45%, with Gen Z respondents, or those born between 1997 and 2015, experiencing the highest level of pandemic-fuelled isolation at 66%. They were followed by the Silent Generation, or those born between 1925 and 1945, at 56%.

“Over the past year and a half, we see that loneliness has escalated among Canadians, more so with pandemic-related anxieties and burnout,” said Dr Kiffer G. Card, social and behavioural epidemiologist at University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy. “As a result, 82% of people who reported being lonely have a low overall life satisfaction.”

The findings revealed the importance of maintaining human connection during these challenging times. In fact, more than 90% of respondents said they wanted to spend at least an hour with friends and family every week, while three-quarters expressed their desire to be with coworkers and neighbours at a least an hour weekly to avoid feeling lonely. The survey also found that four in ten Canadians wanted to have more friends, indicating a strong desire to build more social bonds.

“The best medicine for people, is people,” said Pete Bombaci, founder of The GenWell Project.  “Social connections have been shown to reduce loneliness, anxiety and depression, strengthen our immune system and self-confidence, help us develop empathy and compassion for others, and increase our chances of living longer by up to 50%.”

Bombaci added that connecting with others regularly benefits not only a person’s own health and wellness, but also of those they interact with.

The study showed that even a small amount of time spent with others can have a positive impact on a person’s wellbeing.

According to the survey, participants who spent less than hour with friends in the past week were 1.28 times less likely to lonely than those who did not spend any time with their peers. The figure was higher for those spent five or more hours with friends, who were 1.62 times less likely to feel isolated.

Respondents who met with coworkers for less than an hour and those who reported spending at least five hours with colleagues were 1.36 and 1.73 times less likely to experience loneliness than those who worked by themselves. Those who spent one to four hours with neigbhours, meanwhile, were three times less likely to be lonely, with 72% saying that the time they spent with their neighbours was meaningful and fulfilling.

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