The Loneliness Epidemic

How the Silent Loss of Social Connection has Impacted Our Communities During COVID-19

2021 YMCA WorkWell Special Issue Report

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For over 150 years, the YMCA of Three Rivers has been serving our communities in Guelph, Stratford-Perth, and Waterloo Region to help people feel seen, supported, and connected. This has been a year unlike any other, and our YMCA has done everything we can to step up and lean into our community’s needs during COVID-19: We launched a virtual YMCA within three days, we converted a YMCA branch into a homeless shelter in less than a week, we provided free child care to our community’s essential workers, we launched virtual programs for employment, immigration, health management, early years and youth at risk, and started YMCA WorkWell, a new initiative to improve workplace well-being during the pandemic.

We’re still pushing and our work never stops. For generations, the Y has been at the core of a connected community and COVID-19 has only served to amplify the fact that what matters most in a healthy community is human connection. Without it, we’re all less healthy, less happy, and less likely to thrive. That is where this Special Issue Report begins.

What is a Special Issue Report?

At YMCA WorkWell, it is our mandate to improve the state of workplace well-being in the communities we serve - and beyond. We have partnered with over 30 local organizations since our inception in July 2020, helping them collect valuable insights on their employee well-being and develop action-oriented strategies that prioritize healthy work cultures during the pandemic. We also released our first annual Community Well-Being Report in October, identifying high-level trends in workplace well-being across our community and what leaders can do to better support the well-being of their employees in the age of COVID-19.

While our primary focus is improving workplace well-being, it is data that is at the centre of everything we do; finding valuable insights in our community and translating them into action. With this in mind, we have committed to releasing a Special Issue Report each winter, highlighting one particular issue that is relevant, timely, and pressing. This year, after carefully reflecting on the concerns that we are seeing in our broader community, we are expanding our focus outside of the workplace to target one pressing issue: Social connection and loneliness during COVID-19.

Connection is at the core of everything we do at the YMCA and it is undeniable that the pandemic has deeply shaken the ways in which we are able to connect with our family, our friends, and our community. In this report, we examine what many are calling the “loneliness epidemic”, how it is affecting our collective well-being, and what we can start doing today to tackle loneliness in our community.

The Survey: The Who and the When

Your feedback matters. And we are grateful that our community showed up to provide theirs. We distributed an anonymous, online survey with a goal of understanding a few critical questions: (1) How have loneliness and well-being changed during COVID-19? (2) What is the current state of loneliness and well-being in our community? and (3) Just how closely are the two linked?

We received feedback from 1,453 residents in Guelph-Wellington, Stratford Perth, and Waterloo Region between February 22 and March 22, 2021. The survey was distributed through YMCA newsletters, through social media and through many of our amazing community partners, with responses coming from a wide range of backgrounds, identities, ages, and socio-economic statuses. Importantly, this survey was not limited to YMCA members. Over two thirds of responses came from community members who have not used any YMCA programming in the last year. This data is about connection within our entire community – something that has always been our top priority.

A Note of Warning & A Note of Hope

At the risk of spoiling what is about to come: this is not uplifting data. The results are often daunting and heart-breaking. In a year of many struggles, it may not come as a surprise that loneliness has been a quiet struggle for many members of our community this past year. While it can be difficult to read, we firmly believe that it would be irresponsible to hide or downplay these realities and so we leave it all on the table in this report.

But there are moments of hope in here too. At a time when we have more tools for connection than ever before in human history, it is important to remember that this problem is not insurmountable. Even the most daunting and heart-breaking data is good data if it can inspire action. We hope that this report can be an important step in inspiring conscious, purposeful, and direct action as we collectively tackle this problem head-on in our community. That action starts with the right data. Let’s do this.

We’re here to help. We’re here for good.


Dave Whiteside, Ph.D
Director of Insights
YMCA WorkWell & YMCA of Three Rivers

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