Association between loneliness and suicide ideation among college aged adults during the covid-19 lockdown
The funny thing about feeling lonely is that you’re not alone in those feelings. Especially as we’re moving forward from the days of the pandemic, what we have found was that the world now has this shared trauma experience in loneliness and separation. It is important for us to understand that COVID-19 lockdown has disrupted the lives of many people. It has not only made people fearfully aware of their own health risks but also an additional burden on working conditions, increased needs of family members, as well as resulting in all schools, events. many group social settings to be restricted and limiting social interaction and ability to connect with support networks like friends, family, or other organizations.
Isolation is a complex emotion that can come from many different sources and be rooted in other feelings, such as anxiety or depression. There have been well established studies that support that there are direct relationships between those feelings and future indicators of suicide ideation. From my own experiences and from the people that I have met through my own young adulthood, the young adult age group can be particularly vulnerable to issues relating to mental health from pulling pressures of responsibilities from school, work, familial duties, keeping up with personal relationships, and finding a sustainable balance to find time for ourselves. These can lead to many young adults to feel powerless over their own lives, eventually causing them to burn out and put them in a state of mental distress.
I know for me, at the start of lockdown, I had pushed myself by taking on more classes, helping at my job in a skilled nursing facility with COVID-19 adjustments, and consistently attending virtual social events with my peers because of the “extra time” that I had in my day and the pressures to continually perform as normal. Eventually the strain from all of those stressors felt more debilitating than helpful, and I am sure many of my peers feel the same way.
In our study, we wanted to capture these emotional responses of young adults towards an unprecedented global event and the different actions that people have taken to help cope with distancing and uncertainty. To get the information we needed, a cross-sectional survey was used to gather the information from a specific point in time and to help us find out what the best methods are in preventing loneliness and isolation induced suicide ideation in young adults. The questionnaire was used to see identify the links between mental distress and future feelings of loneliness and suicide ideation, if there is personal value and health risks from various coping mechanisms, and to compare the different ways of coping focused on social connectedness rather than other techniques.
The survey was sent to the friends, family, and peers of San Jose State’s public health Fall epidemiology class in October of 2020, when 7 months had already passed since the beginning of lockdown. It gathered basic information about the person, their personal experience with mental health, and common coping strategies developed by students based on their lived experiences during the pandemic.
We were fortunate in receiving answers from 358 college students aged 18 - 35 years, which was a great start to a class study! The research team pushed the findings forward using the survey information gathered from that semester to create our report. There was a lot of interesting information that we believed could be put to great use in our communities.
We found that the young adults reported having high levels of mental health distress, anxiety (39.7%), depression (30.8%), suicidal ideation (17.0%). Unfortunately, this information wasn’t new from what we have seen throughout our lives and from our understanding of previous studies that detail the relationship between this age group and feelings of mental distress leading to indicators of suicide ideation.
We used length of time to create a standard to help us define levels of loneliness and to see how it coincides with suicidality. From analyzing the data, we saw that feeling lonely more than half the days was reported by 13.9% and nearly every day by 13.4% of participants. For each increasing level of loneliness, the risk of suicidal ideation was higher (Prevalence ratio (PR) for more than half the days: 13.5 (95% CI 4.05, 45.15); PR for nearly every day: 23.7 (95% CI 7.45, 75.22)). In summary, we could confirm from our data that there is a correlation between levels of loneliness and suicide ideation. At first glance we see that for each increasing level of length of time, we see decreased levels of participants. When looking further we see that people that indicated they were having feelings of loneliness also reported having feelings of suicide ideation.
To address loneliness we wanted to look at the importance of coping with social connection. Students who reported high levels of loneliness were less likely to report coping with the pandemic by connecting with friends (PR .47 (95% CI .24, .91)), or family (.32 (95% CI .16, .64)), and were less likely to have connections through employment (.50 (95% CI .26, .97), as compared to their peers. When comparing networking with other forms of coping mechanisms it could be seen that students had a higher expectation to report coping by watching TV (PR 2.23 (95% CI 1.15, 4.32)) and sleeping (PR 2.22 (95% CI 1.05, 4.69)).
Loneliness is both a symptom of mental health distress and an exacerbating factor. Health Institutions, close friends and family, and other organizations working with young adults may take loneliness as an early warning sign for intervention and prevention for suicide ideation. Our research highlighted an opportunity to support mental health by encouraging an increase of social connectedness practices among vulnerable young adults during and after the COVID-19 lockdown.
For more resources in helping people that are experiencing mental distress and suicide ideation go to Expand my Knowledge.
Thea is a senior at San José State University working towards receiving their Bachelors in Public Health. Her interests have been guided towards serving her local college community in mental health and vaccine hesitancy.
Find me on Linkedin Here
The COVID-19 brought significant changes and challenges in terms of our (mental) wellness. Read our posts to learn more about how we explored mental wellness during this unprecedented time.