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Large increase in loneliness but small decrease in mental health problems after the COVID-19 outbreak

Published: 11th January 2021 Last updated: 19th January 2021

Emotional loneliness among Dutch adults increased in the summer of 2020, compared to loneliness in November 2019 (from 18% to 25%). Among adults who were lonely after the COVID-19 outbreak but not lonely before the outbreak, the prevalence of mild to severe anxiety and depression symptoms also increased (from 18% versus 26%).

However, the majority of adults (62%) were not lonely before and after the COVID-19 outbreak and among this group the prevalence of symptoms decreased significantly (7% to 4%). In the summer of 2020, Dutch adults less often suffered from mild to severe anxiety and depression symptoms (15%) compared to months before the COVID-19 outbreak (17%) and during the outbreak in March 2020 (17%). These findings come from a just published study by CentERdata (The Netherlands), Tilburg University (the Netherlands), Fonds Slachtofferhulp (the Netherlands), Maynooth University (Ireland), and the University of Bonn (Germany).

The results are based on a large longitudinal study among a Dutch probability sample of about 4100 adults of 18 years and older. For this study data was extracted from surveys conducted in November 2019, March 2020 and June 2020.

The study furthermore shows that for those who were lonely both before and after COVID-19 outbreak, the prevalence of mild to severe anxiety and depression symptoms did not increase, but remained very high (about 50%).

The study did not find indications that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, adults with mild and severe anxiety and depression symptoms recovered less from these symptoms. The prevalence of adults suffering from these symptoms who, in the period March 2020 – June 2020 were in remission, recovered, remained unchanged or suffered from an increase, did not differ from the prevalence before the COVID-19 outbreak (period November 2019 - March 2020).

Risk factor

Loneliness is an important risk factor for mental health problems. The results suggest that, because of the increased loneliness, the prevalence of mild to severe anxiety and depression symptoms may increase among the general population. A new study aimed at this topic is in preparation.

The study has just been published in the leading peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE and is one of the very few peer-reviewed prospective studies based on large probability samples among the general population, with pre-COVID-19 data on mental health and loneliness.


Van der Velden, P.G., Hyland, P., Contino, C., Gaudecker, HM., von, Muffels, R., & Das, M. (2021). Anxiety and depression symptoms, the recovery from symptoms, and loneliness before and after the COVID-19 outbreak among the general population. Findings from a Dutch population-based longitudinal study. PLoS ONE, 16 (1): e0245057. 


Note to editors

For information about the study please contact Dr. Peter G. van der Velden via, or 06 51851494.

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