Students suffer increased rates of loneliness as impact of the pandemic continues to be revealed

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By Fournine

Jan 20, 20225 mins

Students suffer increased rates of loneliness as impact of the pandemic continues to be revealed

Despite their reputation as one of our most sociable demographics, students are bearing the brunt of loneliness amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Having partnered with YouGov on a survey on loneliness in the UK, Four Nine can reveal that 41% of full-time students feel lonelier now than they did before the pandemic. 

The study, conducted as part of our New Year’s Revolution campaign, also revealed that close to two-thirds (65%) of full-time students have felt lonely at some point.

The idea behind the campaign is to encourage people to join our loneliness rebellion by taking part in open discussions around feeling alone. We also hope to highlight that loneliness is actually a very nuanced concept. Being alone does not necessarily mean someone is lonely, and being surrounded by people does not rule out the possibility of loneliness.

Credit: True Images / Alamy

There’s no denying, though, that the increased loneliness that many students have felt since the pandemic began comes largely as a result of being cut off from social contact for the best part of two years.

Amy, a 19-year-old student in Nottingham, tells Four Nine that she herself has felt noticeably lonelier since the pandemic.

She says this feeling was “heightened” by “being at university where I spent most of my day inside a tiny flat.”

Amy continues: “It has eased slightly as Covid restrictions have lifted, due to being able to see people and talk to my friends. However, I still get lonely and homesick regularly. Once a feeling of loneliness has set in, it’s hard to shake.”

Interestingly, though, her initial feeling of loneliness kicked in during a time when she was “surrounded by people.”

Credit: Amy (Supplied)

The teen explains: “I experienced loneliness during my first year at university. I had just moved to a new city, surrounded by people I didn’t know very well. This meant I didn’t feel comfortable talking to anyone about things that were worrying me, which ultimately resulted in a decline in my confidence and had an impact on my mental health at the time.”

Identifying the issue is the first step to overcoming it, but, unfortunately, a majority of Brits believe there isn’t sufficient support available for those who feel isolated. 

In fact, we found that nearly two-thirds (59%) of women believe there is not enough support in the UK for those who feel lonely.

If this lack of support persists and the issue is left to fester, then these concerning statistics may only become more of a cause for concern later down the line - particularly for young adults.

Our groundbreaking study has shown that only 11% of 18-24-year-olds say they never feel lonely, compared to 40% of those aged over 55. Even more worryingly, just 6% of full-time students report never feeling lonely.

Credit: Mladen Mitrinovic / Alamy

Finding ways to resolve these feelings of loneliness may prove difficult as many are reluctant to open up about it.

More than half (52%) of the female participants who felt uncomfortable telling others that they were lonely explained that the reason for this was that they felt too embarrassed.

Meanwhile, 20% of the respondents felt there was shame in talking about loneliness, and 43% were worried they would become a burden if they spoke openly about how they felt.

This feeling of shame and embarrassment resonates with Amy, who told Four Nine: “I am now an adult and feel as though I should be independent, which makes it hard to admit feelings of loneliness to other students, but I feel a lot of us are in the same boat. Our university does offer help to students such as quiet areas and people to talk to, however this can also feel embarrassing and is very much stigmatised amongst students.”

Kate, a 20-year-old student in Liverpool, can also relate to feeling ashamed of being lonely.

Credit: Kate (Supplied)

She tells us: “I often feel embarrassed to admit I feel lonely, as I think it’s expected for university students to always be having fun. Especially since Covid and being stuck at home, now restrictions are lifting I find it more embarrassing to still be feeling lonely. 

“When I’m surrounded by family and friends, I struggle to admit I feel lonely. As restrictions are lifted, and life gets back to normal, I still have feelings of loneliness, which I didn’t expect - this makes it even harder to talk about. I haven’t told many people, even when I’m surrounded by family and friends I still struggle to admit it.”

Like Amy, Kate has also moved to an entirely different city for university, and she has struggled with the lack of in-person contact with her friends and family back home.

She shares: “The lack of intimate or ‘real’ relationships means I’ve often struggled with feeling lonely, even when I’m surrounded by many people, it can leave me feeling very disconnected with society and life.”

Kate also felt that the pandemic had increased her feelings of loneliness, admitting to “feeling trapped” in her bedroom.

Credit: Kay Roxby / Alamy

She explains: “I wasn’t able to make many friends at university especially during freshers, which has left me feeling quite alone and sad. Even since restrictions have lifted, my loneliness still remains. And I feel like I have missed out on opportunities that I’ll never get back.”

Unsurprisingly, these feelings of loneliness have largely impacted the mental health of those affected by the issue. In fact, over two-thirds (67%) of full-time students reported this to be the case.

For 67% of the full-time students who felt lonelier since the pandemic, the main cause of their loneliness was a lack of real, physical contact that doesn’t involve the virtual world.

24% of students hold the advancement of technology accountable for its role in causing loneliness. Naturally, 40% believe that the availability of in-person support groups would help to resolve the issue.

Interestingly, the study also revealed that at 31%, women were slightly more liable to feeling increased loneliness since the pandemic than men at 27%.

Meanwhile, 39% of those with three or more young children say they feel lonelier now than they did prior to the pandemic, whereas 29% of those with no children reported the same.

Dr Linda Papadopoulos, who is supporting Four Nine’s New Year’s Revolution campaign, has shared her concerns about the findings of the study, as well as suggestions on how to combat feelings of loneliness.

She says: “Firstly, we know that human beings can be profoundly impacted by loneliness, we are inherently social and so connection and interaction is a fundamental human need that is core to both physical and mental health. 

“Secondly, there are several studies to suggest that loneliness and the lack of social connection can have a profound impact on wellbeing and mental health which often leads to more social isolation as a means to cope, setting up a vicious cycle that is difficult to break out of. 

“Finally, living through a pandemic, which in effect requires people to self-isolate, has meant that we have encouraged a type of social anxiety, which not only feeds into loneliness but has the potential to make it more difficult to re-engage with others now that we are slowly beginning to get back to normal. 

“What we actually need to normalise is the ability to talk about loneliness without shame, and help each other reconnect meaningfully.”

Featured image credit: Mladen Mitrinovic / Alamy


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