When I was starting university, loneliness was never something I imagined I would feel. Living with friends, partying 24/7 and attending lectures I actually wanted to be in. It felt like a dream.
Two years down the line, I am not alone but I feel lonely. If this sounds like a contradiction, you’re right. It is. How can I be lonely if I am always surrounded by others? I am not the girl who sits in the house staring out onto a gloomy day, or the girl eating her lunch in a bathroom stall because she has no-one to sit with in the canteen. I am a girl with a large group of friends, two jobs and a supportive family, and yet I feel loneliness seeping in.
If you asked me why I am feeling lonely, I probably couldn’t tell you because it doesn’t make sense. I don’t fit into that stereotype of what a lonely person looks like, if there even is one? I have always felt the pressure to fit in with others my age, but I don’t. This feeling of not having anything in common with the people I am surrounded by is a big part of why I feel so lonely.
Somewhat ironically, I am not alone in experiencing this. Today, young people are some of the most affected cohorts – according to the Office for National Statistics, young adults (16-24) reported feeling lonely more often than older generations. Findings by the Journal of Psychological Medicine paint an even gloomier picture of young people’s loneliness; lonely young people were found to be more likely to have more mental health issues, particularly depression and anxiety, they were less confident in their employment and prospects, and more likely to engage in risky behaviour.
Doing a quick Google search on the help available, it’s apparent that there are more strategies in place to combat loneliness in the elderly than there is for the younger generations, such as Age UK’s buddy scheme, elderly cafes and support groups. However, even if there was more in place for young people to deal with loneliness, I would still feel reluctant to engage with them. Feeling lonely is something I feel embarrassed about; saying it out loud makes it sound ridiculous because there is nothing embarrassing about mental health. But fears over the state of my mental health being undermined by a therapist is enough to stop me in my tracks.
Despite my reservations about asking for help, other UEA students want more to be done. ‘It comes up in our student survey every year as a big issue that they want uea(su) to focus on,’ said Georgina Burchell, Welfare, Community and Diversity officer. Mental Health Matters, a priority campaign for the SU, is designed to do exactly this. They will be working with the Student Support Services and others to develop a variety of initiatives to combat loneliness and its stigma.
Oli Gray, Activities and Opportunities Officer, who is working with Burchell on the Mental Health Matters campaign, picked up on a very interesting point. ‘We know that people spend more time online, seeing life through this lens could make you feel as though everyone else is having a great time when you’re not, which can be hard’.
I can really resonate with what Gray said. I spend a shocking amount of time on social media, and reflecting on this gave me an idea for a possible solution. Social media creates a powerful community online, so why don’t we harness some of that power for good and start creating a community that we can use to support those suffering from loneliness. While I do understand that online communication cannot replace that of real life, having an online support system could go a long way to helping young adults struggling, especially those like me who refuse to see a professional in person.
Loneliness is definitely not a one size fits all issue; a solution that may work for everyone else may not necessarily work for you, and that’s okay. This was my honest account of what it is like to be lonely at university. My reluctance to get help shouldn’t be the reason you don’t seek help for yourself. There are many services on campus such as Nightline and Student Support that can help you if you are feeling lonely.