Experiencing and talking about unwelcome feelings of social disconnection
This research will provide DCMS with a more detailed knowledge of how different groups experience loneliness (or similar feelings), the stigma around loneliness, barriers people face in overcoming these feelings and how to reduce stigma.
About the study
This research is about negative or unwelcome feelings which are experienced when we want to have more, or better, social relationships than we do. Some people describe these feelings as loneliness, while others may use different language to describe how they feel. This could include feeling disconnected from others, lacking companionship or feeling alone. These types of feelings are very common, with loneliness being experienced by almost 80% of the population at some point. While these feelings can be experienced by people with few social relationships, negative feelings such as being disconnected or lacking true companionship are also encountered by people who are surrounded by others.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has commissioned The National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) and RSM UK Consulting to explore:
- How these types of unwelcome feelings (e.g. social disconnection, loneliness or feeling alone) make people feel;
- Whether people feel able to share these feelings and/or seek support and what (if anything) makes these discussions difficult;
- Whether there is a stigma around these types of feelings and what impact this has; and
- What could reduce any stigma around these types of feelings and what impact this could have.
As part of this research, we are also exploring the role of demographics (particularly age/life stage and gender) on how people experience and understand these types of feelings.
Why have I been invited to take part?
You will have been invited to take part for one of three reasons:
- Stakeholder interviews: You have been asked to take part in an interview in your professional capacity, due to your experience supporting people experiencing loneliness or tackling loneliness stigma.
- Interviews and diaries with members of the public: You have been asked to take part in an interview and complete a diary so we can understand more about your personal experience of the types of feelings described above.
- Peer group discussions: You have been asked to take part in a focus group because we want to understand how members of the public with less experience of loneliness understand and talk about these feelings, and whether this is related to age/life stage.
Why take part?
This is an opportunity for you to express your views and experiences so that they are heard by policy-makers. This research will provide DCMS with a more detailed knowledge of how different groups experience loneliness (or similar feelings), the stigma around loneliness, barriers people face in overcoming these feelings and how to reduce stigma. This will help DCMS to make informed policy decisions.
What will taking part involve?
There are three different elements to this research that you may be involved in:
1) Stakeholder interviews
- The interview will be with a researcher from RSM UK Consulting.
- The interview will take place over the phone or video (via Microsoft Teams) for up to 60 minutes.
- During the interview you will be asked about:
- Your understanding of loneliness stigma;
- The experience of stigma for different demographic groups;
- Ways to reduce loneliness stigma; and
- The impact of reducing loneliness stigma.
2) Interviews and diaries with members of the public
- You will complete diary entries over a two-week period. In these diary entries you will reflect on your social connections or relationships that day.
- You will then take part in an interview. The interview will take place over the phone or video (via Microsoft Teams) with a NatCen researcher for up to 60 minutes. In the interview we will ask you to share your experiences of the types of unwelcome feelings discussed above (e.g. social disconnection, loneliness or feeling alone). We’re interested in exploring:
- How you feel or felt about these experiences and why this might be;
- Whether you feel or felt able to discuss your feelings with others;
- Whether you have felt or experienced a stigma around these types of feelings; and
- What (if anything) might help to encourage openness around these types of feelings and what impact this could have.
- You will receive a £60 Love2Shop voucher for completing five diary entries and a £40 Love2Shop voucher for taking part in an interview. Love2Shop vouchers can be used at many high-street shops and can also be exchanged for gift cards for specific shops (such as Asda, M&S and Sainsbury’s). The full list of where Love2Shop vouchers can be spent can be found here.
3) Peer group discussions (focus groups)
- Focus groups will last around 60 minutes, and take place over Microsoft Teams or Zoom.
- Focus groups will be facilitated by two researchers from RSM UK Consulting.
- Discussions will be focused on understanding and perceptions of loneliness.
- Focus groups will be with three of the following groups of people:
- Aged 16-30;
- Aged 40-60;
- Parents of children under the age of 5;
- Retirees who are aged 65 or over.
- You will receive a £40 Love2Shop voucher for taking part in a focus group. Love2Shop vouchers can be used at many high-street shops and can also be exchanged for gift cards for specific shops (such as Asda, M&S and Sainsbury’s). The full list of where Love2Shop vouchers can be spent can be found here.
What will happen to any information I give?
The data collected will be confidential and only be used for research purposes. NatCen and RSM will use your data to write a report for DCMS that will be publicly available. No individual or organisation will be identifiable in the research report. However, as the number of organisations involved in the project is small, DCMS may have an idea of which ones have taken part.
We will treat the information you give us in the strictest confidence under the Data Protection Act 2018 and the UK General Data Protection Regulation (UK GDPR). The only exception to this is if you talk about something which represents a significant risk of harm to yourself or somebody else. In that case, we will have to seek advice from senior colleagues at our workplace who are specially trained. They will decide on the next steps, which could include contacting the relevant authorities or taking no action. We will always try to discuss this with you first. We will always try to discuss this with you first.
With your consent, we will audio record the interviews and focus groups so that we have an accurate record of what is said. The recorder is encrypted and the recording will be stored securely on our computer system in line with data protection legislation. Only the research team will have access to the recordings and the data will be securely deleted at the end of the project. The data uploaded to the digital diaries will be stored on CMNTY (a secure online platform which you will access to upload diary entries) and permanently deleted from the platform at the end of the research project (due to be April 2023). NatCen and RSM UK Consulting will securely delete the data from our system 12 months after the project is finished. With your permission, we may use anonymous quotes from interviews and diary entries in our report to DCMS.
For more information on how NatCen will handle your personal information, please refer to the privacy notice.
Organisations that can provide support
If you have found anything relating to this research upsetting, these organisations are able to provide further information and support.
If you have any questions about NatCen or about this study, please contact the research team on: SocialConnectionsResearch@natcen.ac.uk