One of the mental health challenges facing young people is the issue of loneliness at university. With the freedom and independence that university brings – and young people relish – also comes the risk of isolation.
Feeling lonely at university is very common. According to a 2018 survey, nearly half (46%) of UK students interviewed admitted to feeling lonely at university. Other research suggests as many as one in six students feel they have no ‘true friends’ at university.
If you are coping with loneliness at university, it might help to know that you are definitely not alone.
Dealing with loneliness at university
Students are increasingly feeling lonely for various reasons.
The number of students at universities continues to increase each year making it harder to get to know fellow students. Many lectures are now delivered in rooms seating one hundred or more people (try memorising all those names!). Increasingly coursework is completed online reducing the use of smaller study or project groups. Similarly, social media has changed the way young people communicate and a by-product of that has been to make building new friendships offline a trickier proposition.
The good news, however, is that there are plenty of ways to deal with feeling lonely at university. As part of University Mental Health Day, The Spark has pulled together the best ways to tackle loneliness.
Tackling loneliness at university – remember self-care
When we feel lonely or isolated it can be easy to start looking inward. We can end up incorrectly believing it is our ‘fault’ or that there is something unlikeable about our personality. Effectively creating a stick with which to beat ourselves and inevitably, to feel worse than we already do. This is why being kind to yourself is so important.
Self-care is simply doing things we like. In practice that means going to the gym regularly if it is something you enjoy, spending time reading a favourite book or ‘treats’ like getting your nails done.
Eating well and getting the right amount of sleep (around 7-8 hours per night) are important for our mental health in general. It becomes easier to build new relationships if we are properly rested and eating healthier foods (which we know is hard at uni but definitely worth it).
Coping with loneliness at university – join a group
A great way to deal with loneliness at university is to join a group or club. Universities have groups for even the most diverse of interests. Find something that you have a passion for or an interest in starting and sign up.
The key is to try and be as proactive as possible once you are there. Often, we think someone needs to strike up a conversation with us first and we feel disappointed when they don’t. However, consider that most newbies to a group are probably thinking that way too! Cue a long and awkward silence.
Be brave and take the first step by introducing yourself. Each time you do it, it becomes easier and most of the time the other person will be relieved and delighted that you did!
Remember: real friendships at university take time and effort
There are no quick fixes when it comes to making friends at university. Genuine and lasting relationships take time and effort. Think about the friendships you have from high school or your home town and ask: how many of them happened quickly?
While we all would love to have great, close friendships within a couple of weeks of starting university, we need to manage our expectations. As your lecturers will be telling you, effort equals reward and when it comes to friendships the same is true.
Tackling loneliness – take breaks from studying
Your time at university is about finding a balance between study, socialising, working and downtime. Plenty of people go ‘all in’ for the socialising aspect (which isn’t a great idea) but a lot also become obsessed with their studies.
For some students throwing themselves into their studies can be a cause of loneliness at university or a result of it. Either way, spending almost all of your time studying is unlikely to help you feel less lonely. Therefore, take regular breaks from study time (and not just a ten-minute Instagram break).
Try to take your breaks where there are opportunities to talk to and meet new people. So for example, spend your downtime in the common areas of your student halls/accommodation. If you are a member of a club or group, try hard to avoid skipping meetings/training sessions and commit to attending them.
Ready to talk about the loneliness you are feeling at university yet?
If feeling lonely at university is becoming a real problem and impacting your wellbeing, talking can be beneficial. Universities often provide student wellbeing and counselling services, offering support for issues like loneliness and isolation. Some also provide listening services which can be helpful in making sense of your situation.
For students studying in Scotland, The Spark provides a range of counselling and support services. The charity offers individual counselling sessions – in-person and telephone – as well as running the free and confidential Counselling Helpline. This is Scotland’s only telephone helpline dedicated to relationship issues.