The number of young adults living in rural Scotland during the pandemic who say they are lonely is substantially higher than the majority of elder members of their communities, a survey suggests.

More than 3,000 people in rural communities across Scotland were polled in October and November 2020 to investigate the psychological, social and financial effects of the Covid-19 restrictions on people living in rural areas.

When asked how lonely they were feeling, 32 per cent of those aged 18 to 29 years old said they felt lonely most or all of the time. This compares with three per cent in the 70 to 79 age group, and 8 per cent of the total surveyed.

The RuralCovidLife survey is one of the first to provide insight into rural areas, where one in six people in Scotland live and work, organisers from the University of Edinburgh said.

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Internet connectivity is an issue for many with 19 per cent of those surveyed reporting that their current broadband connections were either poor or very poor.

Some 87 per cent said that high-speed broadband was very important to be able to work from home.

Reliable high-speed broadband was also an important way of keeping in contact with friends and family for 67 per cent of participants, which could be important for counteracting loneliness, experts said.

Public transport use was found to have declined drastically during the pandemic. Only 24 per cent of those surveyed used it, down from 76 per cent prior to the pandemic.

RuralCovidLife is part of Generation Scotland, a long-term Scotland-wide research project looking at the health and wellbeing of volunteers and their families. Generation Scotland participants have answered questions on their medical history and lifestyle, and granted researchers access to their health records.

Support in Mind Scotland helped promote the survey through its National Rural Mental Health Forum, and our Forum convener Jim Hume said: "Covid has had a major negative impact on people across Scotland and this research has highlighted some of the issues in rural communities. The work now is to focus our efforts on tackling those issues and improve mental health and well-being of individuals wherever they live."

Professor David Porteous, Principal Investigator for Generation Scotland at the University of Edinburgh, said: “Despite rural communities being spared the high infection rates and number of deaths seen in urban areas during the first wave, our results show that they have been impacted in terms of social isolation and connecting with others be it online or in their own community.”

Jenny Campbell, who is part of the advisory group for RuralCovidLife and participated in the survey is a Regional Manager for the Scottish Association of Young Farmers Clubs (SAYFC). SAYFC is a network of more than 3,000 farmers across Scotland aged 14 to 30 years old. She is also a sheep farmer based in Stirlingshire.

Jenny, said: “It’s very sad to see reports of young people feeling lonely in rural Scotland, with horrid figures in this survey showing feelings of loneliness are high during the pandemic. SAYFC has always sought to counter social isolation and loneliness in rural Scotland and I am proud of how our members have looked out for each other and people across their rural communities of all ages during the pandemic.”

Generation Scotland was set up 14 years ago and is funded by Wellcome.