Young people lonely, new report finds

Psychological distress also on the rise for 15-24 year olds

By Kirra Livingstone

UNIVERSITY of Melbourne has released its 18th annual Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) report, which found younger Australians are experiencing more psychological distress and more loneliness compared to their older counterparts.
The pandemic accelerated distress and loneliness in most Australians, however researchers are now concerned of the long term impacts and trends from COVID-19.
The HILDA report examines data gathered between 2001 and 2021, by tracking over 17,000 people in over 9,000 households, and for the first time, this year’s report includes insights into vaping and e-cigarettes.
“The distinguishing feature of HILDA is the same households and individuals are interviewed every year, allowing us to see how their lives are changing over time,” said lead author, Professor Roger Wilkins. “The data can tell us about the antecedents and consequences of life outcomes, such as poverty, unemployment, marital breakdown, and poor health because we can see the paths that individuals’ lives took prior to those outcomes and the paths they take subsequently.”
From 2001 to 2009, Australians aged 65 and older were the most lonely age group with the 15-24 year olds the least lonely, however, in 2021 the 15-24 age group were seen as the most lonely demographic in Australia. Loneliness in Australia has shifted its demographics in the last 20 years, for example, between 2001 and 2009 people 65 years and above, and in 2021 the 15-24 year olds are now seen as the highest lonely. All other age groups had a lower proportion of lonely people in 2021 than in 2001.
“There is a clear trend of younger people becoming lonelier and feeling more isolated as time goes on,” co-author, Dr Ferdi Botha said.
“If there aren’t actions taken or policies implemented to intervene, we may see loneliness and psychological distress increasing in the younger generations and this may lead to lower mental and physical wellbeing and other wider societal issues.
“Loneliness increased in the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, but for young people, there is a longer-term trend increase apparent. It may be that this is partly connected to growth in smart phones and social media use.”
In 2021,the youngest age group interviewed for HILDA reports (15-24), found they experienced the highest average level of distress, with 42.3 per cent of 15-24 year olds were psychologically distressed, which is up 18.4 per cent in 2011.
Between 2007 and 2021, the percentage of women who were psychologically distressed was higher than men. For men, the prevalence of psychological distress increased by roughly 51 per cent over this period, whereas among women the prevalence of distress increased by about 63 per cent.