Guest Blog: Counselling Directory discuss student loneliness

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Coping with student loneliness: a self-care guide

Loneliness is often associated only with the elderly, an inevitability of getting older. But a recent report from the Office for National Statistics stated that younger people (specifically 16-24 year olds and, often, students) are the loneliest age group, feeling lonely ‘often’ or ‘always’.

Dispelling this stigma goes hand in hand with the preconceived notion that university is thought to be the happiest time of your life. But, actually, it can be one of the loneliest and most isolating. Yes, it’s OK not to be OK or the life and the soul of every party – and it’s important to know that there is somewhere to turn if you need help.

Written by Katie from Counselling Directory, the online resource hub for mental health, listing over 15,000 professional counsellors, Katie talks loneliness with former student Becky Wright from the University of Brighton.

Loneliness for university students can be seen in peaks and troughs, often, with the first signs appearing in October/November time; when the reality of living away from home and the difference between college and university teaching approaches (reduced contact time) has set in. Becky, who struggled with loneliness, says, “With too much time on your hands, it can be easy to dwell on feeling homesick and your life at home, falling into the routine of going home at the weekends to alleviate the loneliness.

“Although once you’re home, the comfort of your friends and family will dampen your lonely feelings, it may make the situation worse when you go back to uni, having missed a weekend of socialising.” Her top tip, “Go to a university with a good Student Union.” This ensures you have a hub of students who offer student support, activities, outings and a central location to find other students.

You’ll often find that an SU puts on a lot of external activities such as rock climbing, festivals and concerts that you’ll want to go to, but not alone. This is the perfect way to meet a new friend to ensure you don’t have to go alone again. It’s hard to take that first leap of faith but try and reassure yourself that you are not only brave but you’re showing up for yourself and giving yourself a chance to have the life you envisioned at university. And, if the activity really isn’t for you, that is OK.

“An SU is integral to the university experience, particularly if your Uni doesn’t have a campus and you’re living in a new city.” Says Becky.

In her second year, Becky experienced crippling loneliness, living in shared accommodation in a new city, outside the comfort of the university halls. Before you decide on a university, make sure your halls of residence have a communal kitchen and living space. Becky says, “Having a communal living area is a great chance to get to know your new roommates, cook together and form bonds with new groups of people outside of your course.”

Becky also noted that joining the university gym was a vital part of coping with her loneliness. “You’ll not only meet fellow students at the gym, but exercise really is a natural mood lifter, proven to cause chemical changes in the brain to positively enhance your mood.”

Feelings of loneliness at university are completely normal but if you do find yourself in despair, there is always someone to turn to. Mid and North East Essex Mind run an online mental health service called Chat with Charlie each evening between 6pm – 10pm for students of the University of Essex. You can log in to chat anonymously to a volunteer about anything that’s troubling you, however big or small.

Counsellor Jill Carter UKCP and BACP, a child, adolescent and adult psychotherapist, provides her top three tips for coping with feelings of loneliness at university.

  1. Be kind to yourself. It may seem as if others have places to go and people to see so, in your downtime, try and concentrate on the things that actually make you happy.
  2. Make connections and give something back. Volunteering at a local animal shelter or food bank helps you connect with your new community and meet people who have different interests and social lives to those at your university. 
  3. Take the happy pictures online with a pinch of salt. We may withdraw when lonely or even pretend to be happy to keep up the Instagram-persona. But, instead, use your coffee shop free Wi-Fi to check in with those you love, keeping it structured for reassurance that they are there, and then move on to the here and now.

So it’s important to remember that although you feel lonely, you’re not alone.

Dr Alex, a former Love Island star recently revealed that he experienced feelings of loneliness as a student, stating, “In my fourth year of medical school, I went away on a placement to Truro in Cornwall. Being far away, I felt incredibly isolated, which led me to feel lonely and unhappy, but I was lucky to have a few friends out there with me… Something as simple as someone listening made a huge difference.”

As well as Chat with Charlie, the University of Essex alongside a number of universities now offer the Nightlines service: a confidential, anonymous, non-judgmental, non-directional and non-advisory phone and email service for all students who need to talk, and it’s run by student volunteers.

For support 24 hours a day, 365 days a year you can also contact Samaritans on 116 123 or jo@samaritans.org. This number is FREE to call and you don’t have to be in complete despair to call them.

Written by Katie at Counselling Directory, connecting over 15,000 professional counsellors with the general public nationwide. Visit their dedicated Loneliness page for guidance and support with the effects of loneliness.