Alongside the spread of Covid-19, many mental health experts warned of a "loneliness pandemic" developing. In Belgium, the problem persists with 32% of residents "very lonely" and another 36% "moderately lonely", according to a survey of 1,602 people between January and February.
The National Happiness Survey of the University of Ghent has measured loneliness among Belgians since 2017. The number of people who are "moderately lonely" decreased compared to the last time a survey on the issue was conducted. This development is likely thanks to Covid-19 measures being lifted. However, there has been an increase in the amount of people who are "very lonely".
People who are unemployed or are ill long-term report the highest levels of loneliness. In these groups, 49% and 56% respectively feel "very lonely"; this is 17% and 24% higher than the Belgian average.
Danger to mental health
Loneliness among students is particularly high – 47% responded as feeling "moderately lonely". Surprisingly, the researchers found that retirees are the group of people who feel the least lonely. 36% reported that they don't feel lonely at all and whilst 25% feel "very lonely", this is still 7% lower than the Belgian average.
High levels of loneliness are a danger to mental health and well-being. People who feel 'very lonely' are 22% less likely to be happy.
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"One in three Belgians feels 'very lonely' and that is far too much," said Prof. Dr. Lieven Annemans, who led the research. "Local authorities can do something about this by involving more people in social life. We can also do something about this ourselves through more high-quality contacts and connections."