Loneliness

Students Need Help Addressing “Socialisation Issues” Following More Than a Year of Lockdowns, Says University Official

Having been cooped up in their bedrooms for much of the past 18 months, teenagers who are about to begin university need help addressing “socialisation issues”, according to an English university official. Universities will also have to give catch-up sessions to help make up for the amount of learning lost during school closures. The i has the story.

Last month, the London School of Economics and the University of Exeter estimated that pupils lost nearly a third of their learning time between March 2020 and April 2021 because of school closures and coronavirus disruption.  

With many schools unable to complete the full A-level curriculum, students were only assessed this summer on the topics they had covered. 

To make sure students will be able to complete their undergraduate courses, universities are therefore having to step in to bridge the learning gaps. 

The elite Russell Group of universities has teamed up with the Open University to launch ‘Jumpstart University’ – a free resource designed to help students settle into university. 

The platform – which is open to students in all universities – has subject-specific courses, and modules on study skills, student life, wellbeing and mental health. …

An official working for a university in the South of England told i that they were expecting to deliver “remedial work with a lot of students”.

“They cannot help but have had some of their intellectual and other development hindered by being at home for two years at such a critical part of their education. 

“We certainly noticed at the start of last year, some students had problems typical entrants didn’t have.” 

With the 2021 cohort experiencing disruption over two school years, catch-up would have to be provided “across the whole year” to make up for the amount of learning lost, they said. 

The source said universities would have to address “socialisation issues” as well as academic study. “If you’re locked away from age 16 to 18… if we’re back to normal by October, you’ve gone from a period of being locked down for almost two years, to something like as much freedom as you’re ever likely to get.” …

With student unions planning traditional freshers’ week activities for the first time since 2019, there are also concerns some students may over-indulge after two school years in which socialising was strictly limited.

Worth reading in full.

Working from Home during Lockdown Caused Loneliness and Mental Distress

An increasing number of businesses, tempted by the prospect of saving on hefty office costs, are telling their staff to work from home at least some of the time. The Government believes this should become the “default” position for employees post-lockdown, despite research showing that working from home can not only reduce productivity but can also increase – and has increased – levels of loneliness and mental distress – even for those who do not live alone. The Observer has more.

With ministers still debating how to manage the return to workplaces in the wake of Covid restrictions, a study by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) found that the biggest increases in mental distress and loneliness during the pandemic were felt by the most isolated group – those working from home and living alone. However, in a finding that surprised researchers, people working from home and living with others also experienced a significant increase in loneliness not felt by those working outside the home.

Analysts examined data from interviews carried out with 8,675 people before the pandemic and in May, July and November 2020. They found that people able to work from home have been protected from financial difficulties that can drive poor mental health. When financial circumstances, loneliness and demographic characteristics were controlled for in the research, however, people working from home recorded bigger increases in mental distress.

“More of us than ever now work from home and use technology to replace many aspects of work previously done in person, but this cannot fully replicate the working environment for everyone,” said Isabel Taylor, Research Director at NatCen. “As the Government considers current working guidance, individuals, employers and government departments should be aware of the impact working from home is likely having on people’s mental health.”

People were first advised to work from home by the Government in March last year. A month later almost half of U.K. workers were working from home at least some of the time. While limited numbers of people have returned to their workplaces since, advice to work from home has continued into 2021.

The advice could end on July 19th, though a debate about the measure remains. Experts from SAGE have warned in official papers that some measures are “likely to be needed beyond the end of the current roadmap process” to avoid “the likelihood of having to reverse parts of the road map”.

Government sources have denied reports that it was drawing up plans to give workers the right to work from home for ever if they wished to do so. However, they are planning a shift towards greater flexibility for workers in the future. Even before the pandemic hit, the 2019 Conservative election manifesto vowed to “encourage flexible working and consult on making it the default unless employers have good reasons not to”. …

The new NatCen paper states that there are other considerations that should be taken into account, including the interactions between colleagues and the clearer divide between work and personal lives that could be playing a part in its findings about mental health distress.

Worth reading in full.

Only 7% Of Loneliness Support Organisations Have Returned to Normal Service, According to a New Review

Millions of older people are still at risk of suffering from loneliness because many support organisations closed permanently during lockdown and only seven per cent have returned to normal service since, according to a new review by 10 leading loneliness charities. The Guardian has the story.

Loneliness, social isolation and living alone are all associated with an increased risk of early death, the Older People’s Task and Finish Group has said.

The group, part of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Tackling Loneliness Network, also says that so many support organisations closed for good during lockdown that millions of older people are continuing to suffer loneliness, depression and deteriorating physical health. 

The network, Co-Chaired by Independent Age and the Alzheimer’s Society, has found that only seven per cent of 96 support organisations questioned have returned to normal service after the pandemic.

Almost three-quarters of older people questioned in the network’s survey said they had no or significantly less support from the charities they had relied on before the pandemic.

“For people who told us loneliness was not just a product of lockdowns and shielding, but a symptom of their everyday life before the pandemic, the easing of restrictions is not a silver bullet,” said Deborah Alsina, the Chief Executive of Independent Age.

Some older people are coping well since restrictions began to lift, but the group found that a sizeable minority are finding life is just as tough as during lockdown. 

“The extremely damaging side-effects of lockdown – long periods of isolation, a loss of routine and social interaction – have caused significant mental health as well as physical health deterioration for people with dementia, many of them just ‘giving up’ on life, fading away,” said Fiona Carragher, the Director of Research and Influencing at the Alzheimer’s Society.

“Many people we’ve spoken to are concerned that their isolation and loneliness will continue as restrictions ease because the support services they used previously have either shut down or are yet to be reinstated,” she added.

A further survey by Age U.K. found that, compared with before the pandemic, one in three respondents said they had less energy, one in four were unable to walk as far as before, and one in five felt less steady on their feet.

In addition, one in five found it harder to remember things, and more than one in four felt less confident about spending time with family.

Worth reading in full.