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How to overcome the growing issue of loneliness at university

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As the first term of a new year comes to an end, we thought we’d discuss an issue affecting almost half of UK students, and offer advice on how to overcome it.

According to a global report by Sodexo, almost half of UK students (46 per cent) admit to loneliness during their time at university. This is compared to 32 per cent globally, with UK students most likely – 37 per cent – to consider dropping out compared to their worldwide counterparts.

The report revealed that of the reasons why, study related problems caused 51 per cent of students to deliberate leaving university, while 42 per cent have considered dropping out because of physical or mental health issues. 

The world’s largest services company released its first International University Lifestyle Survey earlier this year, which can be downloaded here. The report provides a unique insight into the lives and lifestyles of students across the world, polling over 4,000 students in six markets (the US, China, India, Spain and Italy, as well as the UK). 

The findings support data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) which shows that a record number of 1,180 students left courses early in the 2014-15 academic year due to poor mental health – a 210% increase on 380 students in 2009-10. 

While the study showed UK students are more likely than the global average to believe their university would support them with their studies, employability or their physical or mental health, they are still clearly anxious about their studies.  

The mounting cost of going to university is a key factor in the rise of student anxieties, with 60 per cent of UK students avoiding going out with friends to save money. Debt at graduation is a major concern for around a third of students, compared with a quarter worldwide.  This is unsurprising since more than half of UK students will have debts of between £30,000 and £59,999 by the time they graduate, compared to £11,345 in 2006 and £19,562 in 2010. In comparison, almost 70 per cent of students in China will have no debt on graduation, while in the US, 35 per cent will be debt free. Meanwhile, only 15% of students can say the same in the UK. 

Additionally, 58 per cent of students worry about getting the degree class they want – the highest in all countries and the biggest concern for UK students. They are also more likely than average to be troubled by a heavy workload. 

With this in mind, we’d like to offer our top five ways to overcome loneliness: 

1. Never get trapped in a group

An unfortunate side effect of university, especially freshers week and halls, is that you can end up stuck with a group of people you don’t really connect with, while being too afraid to look elsewhere for friends. After all, no-one wants to be on their own, with no friends and thus no social life. But the fact is, if you’re surrounded by people you don’t really like or who don’t support you, you’re no better off. 

It may be hard to reach out and risk the wrath of those you are already ‘friends’ with, but life is too short to spend it with people who don’t make you happy. Don’t fall for it in freshers and don’t simply live with it in later years. If you are not happy or do not feel supported, make a choice! Either communicate this to your friends and see if they step up, or look elsewhere for that family away from home. 

You can have an amazing time at university, filled with people you care about, who also happen to care about you. You just need to be brave enough to go for it!

2. Join new clubs and societies

This may be a cliché, but it’s one for a reason. While it may be hard to put yourself out there and join new clubs, it’s a great way to meet people. Better yet, since you’ve joined the same club there’s a good chance some of the people you meet will have the same interests as you.

The more time you spend alone, the harder it can be to interact with others. Therefore joining a club or society can help with social skills, as well as form new bonds. 

3. Attendance is key

Turn up to your classes! This may seem like a strange concept to some but attending class isn’t just good for your grade, it’s also good for your mental wellbeing. Lectures and seminars are a chance to meet people, or at the very least take part in human interaction. 

Seminars are especially good as small classes and group projects give you a chance to get to know each other. It’s not always easy to communicate with strangers, especially stressed out students, but be open to interacting with others and see where it gets you. 

4. Say yes to a night out or two

While we all like to take a night off to relax with Netflix and snacks, sometimes we can be our own worst enemy. After a long week or a busy essay period the last thing you might want is to go out, and yet it is still something you should do. 

Even the most introverted, anti-social individual should make an effort to go out now and again. This doesn’t mean you have to go to a club, but even just going to a pub, to the cinema or out for dinner with a friend can be nice. Money can be tight and it can be tempting to stay in bed and save instead, but nights out are a way to make great memories, re-affirm those bonds with friends and just get out of the house. It’s hard to feel lonely when you’re out spending some quality time with friends. 

5. When in doubt, go out

There are times when your studies can creep up on you, and suddenly your balancing four essays and a presentation. Say goodbye to seeing your friends because until that work is done your living in your room and eating take out. 

This might seem like an effective way to work, but it’s hell on your mental health. Locking yourself up, even for a good reason, can make you feel extremely lonely. So, while you may not be able to go out or spend time with friends, you can (and should) still find a way to be around people. The easiest way to do this while balancing work is to study outside of your house. Pick a library, a coffee house or a park (if it’s summer). As long as you’re out and getting work done without being totally isolated, you’re sure to feel a whole lot better.

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