An on-campus initiative implemented by our student engagement officer Thomas Currid focused explicitly on reducing students’ likelihood of loneliness by lowering social isolation, thus improving the mental health of the entire university’s population, staff members included. This was prompted by the 2022 report on loneliness from the Advance HE and the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI).
Transitioning to university involves structural, social, and behavioural changes. These progressions might relate to sensations of loneliness. Loneliness in university students frequently introduces itself as confinement and detachment. Students feel alone at different points all through university. This is frequently set off by the newness of their daily schedules, lack of surety about their studies, seclusion from loved ones, and absence of companionship and associations, assuming they are new to the university.
Though often interrelated, impacts on university students are numerous, affecting each student differently. The impacts of loneliness on university students include, but are not limited to, social isolation, poor academic performance, mental health challenges and suicidal thoughts.
Being human involves the need to belong and be a part of a group. Regardless of how independent they might be, all university students need social associations to get through university. Being lonely may cause vulnerability that affects students’ health and well-being. Studies have connected isolation and loneliness to more serious dangers for university students’ physical and psychological circumstances.
Lonely university students typically underperform academically. The issue frequently burdens some university students in following through with academic tasks well is scholastic dawdling or academic procrastination. This is a unique type of stalling propensity and alludes to students who intentionally postpone finishing academic tasks. This is frequently attached to loneliness and is consumed with one’s thoughts.
Loneliness adversely influences scholastic accomplishments. Research has shown that students who go through extreme loneliness are highly likely to have lower grades than those who experience little to no loneliness. Additionally, loneliness is linked to cognitive weakness and deterioration. Mental steadiness is required for realistic scholastic execution, so students will not perform at their full potential when loneliness hinders it.
Loneliness may also cause mental health challenges among university students. Feelings of loneliness may also impact university students’ overall wellness, affecting their ability to function fully. Mental health practitioners have reported in universities that when a student is affected by loneliness, they are often plagued by mental health challenges such as anxiety and depression, among others. This is especially the case when loneliness persists over long periods. For example, loneliness is tied to depression and is often accompanied by negative beliefs about oneself and little to no life satisfaction. Loneliness is also tied to anxiety.
Finally, loneliness causes some university students to have suicidal thoughts. Suicide and loneliness are complex issues. If a university student feels lonely, it is not a must that they are suicidal. Also, if a student should go through with suicide, it is not in all cases that loneliness plays a role. However, what cannot be denied is that a link exists between loneliness and suicidal thoughts or suicide itself.
University students are often plagued by these suicidal thoughts when they experience heightened loneliness and feel no one understands them. Also, they feel as if they are alone in the world, no one is close to them, they are not essential to anyone, and they have no one to confide in. All of this may plunge these university students into distress and cause them to think of suicide.
It is recommended that universities implement on-campus initiatives that concentrate overtly on plummeting students’ possibility of loneliness by reducing social seclusion.
These initiatives would improve the mental health of the whole student populace. One way to carry out such initiatives is by having open ‘talk-out’ sessions about loneliness with students. These sessions would provide safe spaces for university students to discuss loneliness openly. Some of the positive effects of these sessions could be improved mental health among students and help-seeking behaviour.
Soneika Atkinson is a first-year student mental health nurse at the University of Essex. You can connect with her on Twitter @sunnyandKK.