Loneliness at university is something that many students, myself included, experience. It’s not really surprising that loneliness hits once you come to university; it’s a massive upheaval and it feels like your whole world is different. In my case, it was a change from being at school 8:45-4:30 five days a week, where I talked almost continuously to friends (some of whom I have known for over a decade), to an entirely new environment where I knew no one, and on a course where initially my only forced human interaction was a mere seven contact hours a week.
Scrolling down social media, all your friends – of both the old home and new uni variety – look like they’ve made bounds of friends, go out every night, and are doing uni “right”. And while of course there is no “right” or “wrong” way for you to live your university experience, it doesn’t stop you thinking it. Fear of missing out prevails, and when seemingly everyone shares that they’re going out all the time and having a great experience, whereas you’re sat in your halls room watching Netflix and switching between the same three tabs for hours, you certainly feel as if you’ve missed out. And despite knowing deep down that these filtered versions of their lives are not a true representation, you still stress that everyone else is out having more fun than you.
According to a 2016 Canadian survey, nearly 70 per cent of students battle loneliness, with 66 per cent reporting feeling very lonely some of the time. A 2014 AXA PPP Healthcare poll found that 18-24 year olds are four times as likely to feel lonely “most of the time” than those aged over 70. The point I’m making with these statistics is that the perception of Generation Z as social media savvy extroverts who are never disconnected from each other just does not hold up. We may always be communicating through Facebook; that doesn’t mean we always feel like we form meaningful bonds.
I’ve never been lonely at university in that I’ve physically been alone. There have always been housemates, course mates, and even those here at Nouse who I see all the time and go out with. But you can be surrounded by people physically and still feel alone, like you don’t necessarily have anyone to talk to or connect with. You may have hundreds of people you genuinely consider to be your friends, but when you can’t find anyone to attend the event that you want to go to with you, you can feel pretty alone.
Everyone’s experiences are different, and while I don’t expect that everyone has faced challenges with loneliness, it is pretty indiscriminate. Anyone can feel lonely at any point, and as outlined by the figures earlier, it’s not the stereotype of the elderly that loneliness particularly strikes the worst. Loneliness can be tough, and profoundly detrimental to physical and mental health.
The Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness was set up by a group of cross partisan MPs to tackle loneliness, an issue that Cox had started campaigning on before her murder. Cox herself suffered from loneliness at university, which I think helps to show that this is not a new phenomenon. Universities, in my experience, are not the buzzing hive of people where you interact with everyone that some stereotypes suggest, and at times they can be pretty lonely. And yes, being away from home is a huge part of it, and yes, there are lots of different ways you can help to mitigate these feelings: joining a society, getting into a routine, attending events, and, most crucially, asking for help.
So to sum up this huge, waffley article: university can be lonely for everyone. Don’t feel that you’re the only one who feels alone; we’re all in this together. And, in the words of the immortal Jo Cox MP, “Young or old, loneliness doesn’t discriminate… it is something many of us could easily help with.”