cope with loneliness

How to cope with loneliness during your first term at uni, according to Mind

It’s incredibly normal to feel lonely right now

Starting university for the first time or heading back after summer is usually a period of intense emotions. You’re excited to meet flatmates, dreading the prospect of more essays and looking forward to getting back to uni nights out chugging VKs and definitely missing that 9am lecture. However whilst it’s usually a great time, many students can suffer with loneliness, particularly during those first few weeks of term.

A survey by the Office of National Statistics found 33 per cent of students aged between 16-29 years old often or always felt lonely. Compared to the eight per cent of the general adult population who felt the same way, loneliness is clearly a big problem on UK university campuses.

Viola is a student who suffered with loneliness so much during her first term of university she contemplated dropping out. She told The Tab: “Before going to uni I don’t think I realised just how hard it would be to make friends. I spent so much of the first few weeks in my room in halls just crying and even contemplating dropping out because I just felt so isolated and lonely.”

Viola’s loneliness was made worse when she could easily compare how her friend from home instantly made new friends. Luckily a month into her first term Viola made a group of friends she’s still close to now, however since making friends she’s realised the expectation versus the reality of uni social life is very different.

She said: “Later on when I talked to my other friends who all seemed like they’d made loads of friends straight away, I definitely found that basically everyone had times where they felt really alone or had nothing to do. We get painted this picture that uni is just constant activity and fun, but no one ever tells you about just how much time you’ll actually spend in your room alone between classes or after dinner.”

The pandemic has created an even bigger loneliness problem with the majority of students last year unable to have a proper university experience. Many spent most of the year at home or in their student house with a very small bubble and those who did make it to campus were unable to make many new friends in their first year due to Covid restrictions.

Thankfully this year’s Freshers will get more of a chance to make friends, join societies and have a relatively normal university experience. However loneliness won’t stop just because the pandemic is getting better. Students are still extremely susceptible to loneliness. Even in a room full of people, it’s surprisingly easy to feel lonely, so it’s important to know how to look after yourself if you’re experiencing loneliness.

The Tab spoke to Stephen Buckley, the head of information at mental health charity Mind to get their advice on how students can cope with loneliness during the first few months of uni:

Remember loneliness is a normal emotion

Whilst it can sometimes feel like you’re the only person around you who is experiencing loneliness, it’s actually an incredibly common emotion.

Stephen says whilst everyone’s emotions are unique, many students will still experience loneliness.

He said: “Starting university and the challenges of the pandemic might mean that you feel lonely more often, or maybe for the first time. It’s normal to feel a range of emotions – from happiness, excitement and optimism to worry, sadness and loneliness.”

Try and identify your feelings as soon as possible

Loneliness itself is not actually a mental health problem but for those with existing mental health problems it can make those worse.

Stephen says it can “cause you to withdraw from friends and family” as a result of feeling low or anxious. Therefore if you already have mental health condition try and identify these feelings of loneliness as early as you can.

Take time to look after yourself

Those first few weeks of uni can be incredibly busy and overwhelming. You’re meeting new people, adjusting to a new city, going out every night, adapting to a new style of teaching and learning how to basically be an adult overnight.

However Stephen advises not saying yes to every single thing as you need to “take the time to look after yourself to help you cope with the changes in lifestyle.”

It’s also really important to not compare your university experience with someone else’s as “aspiring to have the ‘perfect’ university experience might lead you to compare your lifestyle to others, which can have a negative impact on your mental health,” Stephen suggests.

If you can try and remember everyone has different hobbies and ways they like to spend their time.

Don’t believe everything on social media

It’s very easy to fall into the trap of comparing your Freshers week with your mates, especially when it’s blasted all over TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat.

Stephen recommends to try and minimise your comparison to other people as this will only make you feel more lonely.

He said: “Remember to take social media with a pinch of salt. Social media can give the impression that all of your friends are hanging out together and having the best time, all the time.”

Stephen also suggests taking some time to consider who you’re following and what content you’re viewing, and if you can take a break from social media all together.

Talk to someone you trust

Though it can be hard to know who to turn to, Stephen said if your loneliness is starting to affect your daily life or makes you unwell then it’s essential you speak to someone.

If you feel uncomfortable speaking to a family member or friend then Stephen suggests “talking to an academic supervisor, tutor, or a welfare staff member, who can help get you the support you need. You can also seek help from a GP or organisations outside your University.

Use one of Mind’s many resources for support

Mind is an incredible place to head to for a number of free support resources.

One resource is Side by Side, Mind’s community platform where you can feel like part of a community by sharing your experiences and listening to others with similar stories to you. The site is moderated and open 24 hours a day.

Mind has a number of videos to watch about coping with loneliness and managing your wellbeing specifically for students.

You can also contact Mind every weekday from 9am to 6pm on their confidential support and information line on 0300 123 3393.

We’re Mind, the mental health charity. We provide advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. We campaign to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding. We won’t give up until everyone experiencing a mental health problem gets both support and respect. 

Mind’s income has been affected by the outbreak of coronavirus, largely due to the temporary closure of our charity shops across England and Wales, and the cancellation or postponement of major fundraising events. To help us continue our vital work, donate to our emergency appeal: 

Featured image credit via Shutterstock 

Related stories recommended by this writer:

This is how to avoid burnout in your first term of university

Third years share 22 things they wish they’d known about first year

‘It was draining’: This is what Freshers’ Week is like according to autistic students