Methods: This cross-sectional study explored the ways in which people in the United States (N = 412) are meeting their social needs in a time of social distancing, how these activities relate to levels of loneliness, and any differences among young, middle-aged, and older adults. The data were drawn from an online survey distributed through Mechanical Turk (MTurk), an Amazon supported survey participant strategy that allows completion of tasks for monetary reward. The online questionnaire measured loneliness (overall, emotional, and social), social isolation, activities to meet social needs, and the extent to which the activities were perceived to be effective in meeting social needs. The data were analyzed using descriptive statistics and bivariate analyses.
Results: The findings indicated higher levels of loneliness and social isolation for the entire sample and across the three age groups from pre- to during COVID-19 with younger adults experiencing higher levels of emotional loneliness during COVID-19. The extent to which the activities were related to loneliness was only found among the young adults and older adults where outdoor meet-ups, talking on the phone, and texting was associated with lower levels of loneliness among the young adults, and engaging in social media and talking on the phone was associated with lower levels of loneliness among the older adults.
Conclusions & Implications: The findings support social work practice recommendations for addressing loneliness during times of social distancing under the COVID-19 pandemic and future public health crises.