‘My thoughts became poisonous’: the toll of lockdown when you live alone
Long-term social isolation is as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. What has the last year meant for those who don’t share their homes?
When the first headlines about coronavirus began to appear in January 2020, they had little impact on south Londoner TJ, 25. “It seems outrageous now, but I thought: ‘I’m young, I’m healthy, I’ll be fine.’” By the time the first lockdown was announced, his mindset had begun to shift. He’d been single “for ever” and his housemate was spending lockdown with her parents, but he felt that same batten-down-the-hatches optimism many did in the era of weekly clapping and Zoom quizzes. “But that first weekend, the silence of the house and all the hours to fill – I got this inkling… mentally, I don’t know where I’ll be at the end of this. Four weeks in, I was genuinely scared for my mental health, I wasn’t coping at all.”
TJ is one of an estimated 7.7 million people in the UK who lived alone for most or all of the last year. “It’s not a game of Top Trumps, it’s not like my anxiety is more profound,” he says. “But it is different when you’re experiencing it all on your own.” In November 2020 the Office for National Statistics released findings that showed acute loneliness had climbed to record levels, with 8% of adults (around 4.2 million people) feeling “always or often lonely”, and 16-29-year-olds twice as likely as the over-70s to experience loneliness in the pandemic. “You’d never think fear of missing out would exist when we’re all stuck at home,” TJ says. “But I’d be scrolling through Instagram, seeing friends with their boyfriends or housemates, and thinking: ‘I wish I had someone. I feel so alone.’”