how lonely are the UK’s students?

Despite being a country consisting of more than nine million adults who are always or often lonely, we struggle to talk about how we are lonely or why. It is a taboo subject that most people try to avoid, why don’t we ask our friends and family the outright question, ‘Are you lonely?’. Why don’t we talk about it? Why is admitting your loneliness considered a weakness?

Last week, Tracey Crouch was appointed as the UK’s first minister for loneliness. She is now able to focus on this ever-expanding issue, with the goal of resolving the social problems that relate to the loneliness that our nation seems to ignore. In light of this, I asked both male and female students provocative questions including ‘How often do you feel lonely?’ ‘What is it about your student life that contributes to this feeling?’ ‘What effect does this have on your physical and emotional state?’.

The results were intriguing and surprising, not only was I surprised at the answers that were given but at the conversations that followed. It should be encouraged to talk to your peers about loneliness; it shouldn’t be ignored or overlooked because it’s often those who seem ok who are struggling the most.

By asking these questions, I was able to find out that the majority of people felt lonely most days. Out of seven participants, only one said they rarely feel lonely. This means that 86% of people surveyed said they feel lonely on average ‘every day – some days during a week’. When asked where they felt most lonely, the most common response was that students felt lonely in their accommodation in the evenings – specifically when in bed and trying to sleep. Home is supposed to be our safe place, but the absence of the person you normally talk to about how you feel can result in an overriding feeling of isolation.

Loneliness can take many forms; one participant mentioned that they felt lonely in even the busiest places as this emphasises the fact they are on their own. As well as this, discovering via social media that your friends had done something without you can strike the same effect.

The effects of loneliness are astounding; participants mentioned that it made them feel incredibly lethargic and sluggish while forcing them to stay in the house as they are unmotivated. On the other hand, loneliness can leave a student feeling distracted, they can’t focus properly which leads to frustration and an overriding feeling that they aren’t good enough.

Many aspects of student life, in particular, can contribute to this feeling of loneliness. For example, if your course has little contact hours or is heavy on independent work such as reading, it means that it is very easy to fall into the routine of isolating yourself when away from lectures. In addition to this, not getting on with your flatmates can have a massive impact, especially in the first year when most people haven’t made friends on their course, or if they don’t feel the pressure to live the stereotypical student life of 24/7 drinking and socials. You will think that you can’t talk to people in your position because they will be judgemental, but there will be a time that you find people you can trust and talk to.

I asked the participants to list some of the things that help them to feel better when they are lonely; most included taking a walk and getting fresh air, or doing something that makes them happy such as playing a musical instrument or taking a bath. But the most important thing you can do is to talk to someone, explain how you are feeling. Sit down with a cup of tea with your friends and loved ones, facetime your family if you need to, or go and speak to someone at the student services at your uni.

Take advantage of the support system you have, loneliness is taking over the UK, don’t let it continue being a taboo subject. It is ok to feel the way you do and not be embarrassed about it.

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