Research carried out by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has found that children growing up in cities are nearly four times more lonely than children living in the countryside

More than 19% of children living in a city reported “often” feeling lonely, compared to nearly 5% of children living in towns or more rural, countryside areas. The study, conducted by the Office for National Statistics, is the first of its kind.

In response to the findings, experts suggest the rates of loneliness in city children could be linked to greater urban deprivation. Nearly 28% of children who received free school meals reported often feeling lonely, compared to 5.5% who were not entitled to the benefit.

Urban isolation could also be a factor, as families (both parents and the children) were more hesitant about children going out on their own. Children living with health problems, or those with poor relationships with friends and family were also more likely to experience loneliness.

Chair of the Child and Adolescent Faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Dr Bernadka Dubicka said that it was “an indictment of society that so many children were lonely”. She went on to say:

“The relationship with poverty seems to be important. Children from poorer families will have less opportunities.

“Despite easier access to people via social media, that doesn’t seem to be helping in terms of loneliness. It emphasises the need for face to face contact and social support in a physical way, rather than just online.”

Almost one in seven children starting secondary school often feel lonely. Some 14% of children aged 10 to 12 reported feeling lonely as they faced the challenge of making new friends. In many cases, this was also the first time they joined social media.

ONS found that by the time the children were teenagers, the proportion had dropped to 9%. Statistician Dawn Snape said it demonstrated loneliness was an important factor, as children went “through transitional life stages such as the move from primary to secondary school and, later, leaving school or higher education and adapting to early adult life.”

The types of loneliness

There are two types of loneliness:

  • emotional loneliness - missing the company of one particular person, such as a spouse, sibling or best friend
  • social loneliness - lacking a wider social network (friends, colleagues)

Social interaction is a part of life and it’s human nature to crave companionship and compassion. When this is taken away, you can feel very lonely indeed.

The children involved in the study made a series of suggestions on what could be done to help, including making it more acceptable to discuss loneliness at school; preparing young people better to understand, recognise and address loneliness in themselves and those around them; and encouraging positive uses of social media.

While previously, it was thought that elderly people were more susceptible to feeling lonely, with more than 900,000 people in the UK aged 65 or over reporting feeling lonely all, or more of the time. Yet, all of us can feel lonely, no matter our age, lifestyle or location.

However, more recently, it was revealed that young people are actually the loneliness age group in England. In an earlier report by ONS younger adults aged 16 to 24 reported feeling lonely often or always (that’s one in 20 adults).

Counselling Directory has plenty of information on loneliness, including what support is available and advice for staying connected.

If you are feeling lonely, you may benefit from speaking to a professional. Simply enter your location in the box below to find a counsellor near you.