Relationship, Stress, Wellbeing

Every one of us knows what the experience of loneliness can feel like. Despite this, the experience may involve strong feelings of guilt or shame. Perhaps you feel that there is something wrong with you or that you are the only one who feels lonely. We would like to tell you that you are not alone. You can get support. 

EVERY MOMENT ON CAMPUS, YOU CAN SEE STUDENTS WHO EXPERIENCE LONELINESS 

Loneliness is tremendously common in higher education institutions, but it may sometimes be difficult to identify. If you look around the campus, you may think: one in four of these fellow students around me experience harmful loneliness. Or that more than half of the students I see have experiences of loneliness that have only increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. That is how common loneliness is in higher education institutions. (The Finnish Student Health and Wellbeing Survey, KOTT, 2021).  

LONELINESS MAY BE DIFFICULT TO IDENTIFY 

It may still be difficult to admit to yourself or someone else that you are lonely. You may feel that everyone else’s life is easier and that you are the only one who struggles with the experiences of loneliness. Sometimes, it may also be difficult to recognise the experiences of loneliness in you. ‘I can’t be lonely! My calendar is full, I go to student events, or I’m in a relationship. I’m not lonely, I have people around me.’  

The experience of loneliness can emerge from having few relationships, that means, you do not have people around you to spend time with or you do not belong to a group. This is what we call social loneliness. However, the experience of loneliness may also arise from the experience that you are not seen, heard or understood in the way you need to be, or that you have no close relationships in which you would feel important. This refers to emotional loneliness. You can experience this even if you have people around you and participate in many activities. You can often experience both social and emotional loneliness, i.e., they are not mutually exclusive experiences. 

THE STIGMA ASSOCIATED WITH LONELINESS MUST BE BROKEN

The difficulty of identifying loneliness in yourself and the shame and fear of stigmatisation related to loneliness can prevent you from admitting it, even to yourself. You can feel like you are a total loser when you feel lonely. Or that there is something fundamentally wrong about you that cannot be changed. So, there is no point in trying to fix it.  

At this point, it is a good idea to stop and remember how common experiences of loneliness are also among your fellow students. One in four experiences harmful, prolonged loneliness, and more than half have experiences of increasing loneliness during the COVID-19 pandemic. Does this mean that there is something fundamentally wrong with tens of thousands of students? No, it does not.

Experiences of loneliness do not mean that you are a failure, defective or in a perpetual state of loneliness. You are wonderful, valuable and unique just as you are. And you can influence the experiences of loneliness.  

‘You’re important <3.’ ‘Your tribe is out there, you just haven’t found it yet.’ ‘You’re important and valuable just as you are.’ ‘Even though you feel like you’re alone, you’re not alone <3.’ ‘You’re wonderful and important <3.’ 

We asked about this at a student event, and these are examples of the kinds of greetings students wanted to send to an unknown fellow student who is experiencing loneliness. You are important.  

LONELINESS CONCERNS THE WHOLE COMMUNITY, EACH OF US CAN INFLUENCE IT 

Many factors affect the development of experiences of loneliness, and we need many different ways to reduce loneliness. Every one of us can do small things. For example, you can greet a fellow student, look them in the eyes, smile or ask, ‘What’s up?’ or ‘Can I sit next to you?’ The more of us do this, the more likely it is that more and more people can feel that they are seen and that they are important and valuable as themselves.

You can think about which kind of study environment you would prefer to study in: one that is compassionate, considerate and appreciative, or one that is competitive, rude and self-centred? For many, the answer is pretty obvious. Fortunately, higher education institutions have people (teachers, actors, other students) who are on your side and only wish you well, 

‘Sometimes, I feel very lonely. Suddenly, out of the blue, you can meet a like-minded person. I’m sending you loads of strength. I know how it feels. You’re precious, just like everyone else.’  

– Greetings from a fellow student to you, a student experiencing loneliness 

Although experiences of loneliness are difficult  and painful, do not give up hope. You can influence loneliness and things can change. The most important thing is that you do not keep it to yourself.

It is not worth comparing the experience of loneliness with the situation of others or waiting for the experience to deepen and never end. If you recognise or suspect that you feel lonely, that is reason enough to seek support. We care about your well-being, we hope you do, too. 

SUPPORT IS AVAILABLE:

Many higher education institutions have people you can contact about loneliness. Examples of these are study psychologists, student counsellors, chaplains at educational institutions, student health care personnel and various well-being actors at the institution. You can turn to them with your experiences of loneliness. The Yksinäisyystyö korkeakouluissa project on loneliness in institutions of higher education also offers training for those working with students so that, in the future, more students will receive the support they need where they study.

Rosa Weckman and Annina Lindberg
Rosa is a study coach and developer of student well-being at Haaga-Helia. They support students’ study ability and help with issues related to studying. They have time to encounter people and their heart beats to communality, detecting strengths and colourful woollen socks. Anniina acts as the project manager of the Yksinäisyystyö korkeakouluissa project at Nyyti ry and works with their team to ensure that low threshold effective help for loneliness is available to students that is close to their everyday lives. They are also an empathetic “fellow traveller” who hopes that people will pay more attention to the things that unite them than separate them.

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