A study of 2,000 adults found recent restrictions have exacerbated the UK’s loneliness problem with a fifth feeling increasingly isolated during the past three months.
More than a fifth also revealed the pandemic has strained existing friendships because close acquaintances have failed to reach out to them.
And 14 per cent fear they have lost friends forever as a result of not being able to visit them in person.
Commissioned by Santander, the study also found more than one in 10 knowingly broke lockdown rules so they could see friends and family – because they felt so lonely.
Sue Willis, trustee of Santander Foundation, said: “It’s clear that during lockdown many people have been affected by loneliness and isolation.
“It is heartbreaking to see the impact it has had on some people’s lives and friendships.
“We are very proud to be working with Age UK and Alzheimer’s Society to support the fantastic work they do to support older people and those living with dementia during this difficult time.
“While coronavirus has put the spotlight on some of these issues of loneliness, we are committed to providing long term support for vulnerable people in our communities who suffer from loneliness through our work with the charities.”
The study also found that, prior to the lockdown, it was common for a quarter of the population to go several days without speaking to anyone at all.
And this hasn’t necessarily improved since the restrictions were introduced – as 37 per cent said they’ve had days where they’ve had no contact with anyone at all.
Currently, 26 per cent of adults feel lonely, with one in 10 finding this the most challenging aspect of the lockdown.
Video calls have proved beneficial in reducing feelings of loneliness among 25 per cent but one in 10 admitted they feel even more distant afterwards.
But despite being burdened with feelings of isolation, more than half of those polled haven’t shared any of their struggles during the lockdown with another soul.
A third of those who haven’t discussed their difficulties opted not to because they didn’t want to worry anyone and a fifth find openness too hard.
Instead, 40 per cent of those suffering with loneliness have taken to comfort eating, while a quarter now regularly exceed the recommended alcohol consumption limit.
But the most common effect of loneliness is missing friends and family – and older people have perhaps felt this most.
Nearly three quarters of people over 55 said they have struggled with loneliness during the lockdown, and two thirds admitted they’ve not spoken to anyone about how they have been finding it difficult to cope.
And this may have affected their overall wellbeing as four in 10 adults with older or vulnerable relatives said they’ve noticed a deterioration in their mental or physical health over recent months.
The Santander study, carried out through OnePoll, also found loneliness has proved to be significantly challenging for those who don’t live with anyone.
Currently a fifth of the population live alone and 38 per cent currently feel lonely – 14 per cent more than those who reside with someone else.
Further to this, those living alone had gone an average of 11 days without talking to anyone at all since the lockdown came into effect on 23 March.
To help alleviate loneliness, Santander UK employees are signing up to volunteer with Alzheimer’s Society and Age UK.
They will place regular social phone calls to isolated people and those living with dementia, distribute support leaflets, deliver groceries, help older people get online and develop their digital skills, and become ‘Dementia Friends’.
The Santander Foundation is donating £1,000 to Age UK and Alzheimer’s Society for every Santander UK employee who takes part in volunteering initiatives – up to £1 million.
It follows on from an earlier donation by the Santander Foundation to the two charities totalling £2 million – given as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
The total donation of up to £3million will be split equally between the two charities, meaning they will receive £1.5million each.
AGE UK AND ALZHEIMER’S SOCIETY GIVE SOME TOP TIPS FOR THOSE MAKING SOCIAL PHONE CALLS TO VULNERABLE PEOPLE
FIRST IMPRESSIONS COUNT
The first 30 seconds of your conversation are crucial, so smile while you speak – even if they can’t see you, to help your voice express your interest, enthusiasm and confidence.
HAVE A FRIENDLY CHAT
Rather than bombarding them with questions, listen out for things that spark their interest – you’re there for a friendly chat, not an interview.
CHAT ABOUT THE PAST
Ask about the past and what life was like growing up instead of talking about the current situation – it’ll lead to better conversations.
TAKE YOUR TIME
If the person you are chatting to is struggling to hear you clearly, try speaking more slowly rather than upping the volume.
THAT AWKWARD SILENCE
Don’t worry about long pauses in conversation – it gives everyone time to gather their thoughts.