Working in the higher education sector, we’re sure you know the buzz of Freshers arriving on campus in September, feeling excited and optimistic about the journey they’re about to embark on, but often, those feelings do not last long, nor are they shared by all.
Understandably, jumping into higher education can be daunting because of the scale of change. This alone can fuel the mental health struggles we see amongst students today.
What is loneliness?
Loneliness can be described as a smorgasbord of feelings that stem from a person not having (or feeling as though they do not have) enough friends and social contacts in either quantity, quality, or both.
This isn’t exclusive to university students… data found that 33% of the adult population in Britain feel lonely – if you’re in an office, look around you as you,or 1 in 3 of your colleagues could feel lonely ‘often or always’.
Students are lonely
Whilst experiencing loneliness is actually common, this increased due to lockdowns and isolation impacting the student experience according to new data released on June 9th 2022 from HEPI in their Academic Experience Survey.
The Higher Education Policy Institute surveyed more than 10,000 students for its annual study and found that students were lonelier than ever, with approximately 1 in 4 students stating they felt lonely ‘most’ or ‘all of the time’, compared to only 5% of the general population (in 2020) who reported that they felt lonely ‘often’ or ‘always’.
The data suggests that feelings of loneliness were more prominent in students from diverse backgrounds. Feeling lonely all or most of the time was a particular problem for black students (31%), LGB+ students (30%), students with a disability (36%), and trans students (47%).
Why are students feeling lonely?
- They may be having trouble making new friends and struggling with new social expectations
- Living situation has a big impact on loneliness. If they’re living at home or alone, they’ll be missing out on the ‘full experience’ of kitchen parties, messy housemates, and spontaneous chaos
- Similarly, moving away from home into shared accommodation can cause students to struggle to adjust to a new environment, as well as miss their home life.
- Pressure can also impact feelings of loneliness, with academic level studying being a big leap from college and sixth form.
What can we do to tackle student loneliness?
Create a safe environment
Simply making sure students know that they can share how they’re feeling and that someone will be there to listen and provide support can truly work wonders.
Similarly, a space where students can connect with others is beneficial. We know there are SU bars, libraries, clubs and such, but where do you go if you don’t want to sit silently in the library or sink pints in the SU? The answer is probably back home, alone again, which isn’t a productive way to tackle loneliness.
Research published by Wonkhe/Pearson earlier this year on student belonging, which is closely related to loneliness, found that there is a strong correlation between empowerment and belonging, with 7 in 10 students who felt like they don’t have a sense of belonging also feeling like they’re unempowered.
Dating back to the Age of Enlightenment, Voltaire’s adage, “with great power comes great responsibility”, rings truer than ever, posing the question: what can those in the HE sector do to boost empowerment?
From a pedagogical perspective, in an ideal lecture academics should provide experiences that are active, engaging, encourage curiosity, choice and self-direction – all of which aim to inspire empowerment.
Similarly, encouraging students to feel empowered could come from something as simple as sharing the power.
It’s not a case of allowing students to set the assignments, run lectures or even cancel them, it’s about giving students the power and space to ask questions, to challenge established ideas and to complete assignments in a way that best suits them and their learning style. These freedoms can act as a set of cogs in a clock that all work together to keep the hands moving, ultimately empowering students to take more control of their university experience.
We know that every university has their own mental health resources available to benefit their students, but are they promoted well enough?
Do all of your students know where they can find these resources and how they can get the help?
The answer is probably no, as research shows that students don’t always know where to go for help, with only 29% of students reporting worse mental health since the pandemic accessing the services available to them.
It’s important to make sure that the resources are visible and accessible to all – the struggle students are facing is real, and you have the key to help change that.
What Kortext is doing
It is important for us as a company in the higher education sector to empathise with students during their academic journey.
Whilst there is a real drive at the moment to destigmatised mental health, there is still a lack of conversation around having poor mental health, the different symptoms felt and their subsequent effect on physical health and academic performance.
We have partnered with Student Minds – a charity dedicated to empowering students with the skills to manage their mental health, to give our students a direct link to Student Space – mental health resources via the Kortext bookshelf.
Whilst we can’t stop students from feeling lonely entirely, we can all do something to help. What will you be doing to limit loneliness?
If you’re a student struggling with issues related to mental health, you can visit Student Minds for free information, advice and national support services.