Does the ‘Hollywood’ image of higher education make students feel lonelier?

We often have a stylised image of higher education as a place where young people can feel liberated in some way, where they’ll go out partying mid-week, join a bunch of societies, meet life-long friends, and drink until the sun comes up.

The reality however for many students is far removed from how Hollywood would like us to envisage and can lead to unnecessary pressures and expectations on what student life should be like.

The latest findings on student wellbeing post-pandemic are revealing and form part of a wider snapshot of how extensive mental health conditions really are among the student population. In 2022, 416,000 UK students said they had a disability of some kind; this was 19.1% of all home students. Within this, a staggering 119,500 students said they had a mental health condition.

New research indicates that almost one in four students feel lonely most or all the time. That is four times worse than the one in 20 adults who said they were similarly lonely in the most recent data for the general population.

What is loneliness?

Loneliness is the negative feeling we have when there is a mismatch between the relationships we want and the ones we have, both in terms of quality and quantity.

Loneliness is feeling alone, not being alone. A person can be lonely in a room full of people.

Social isolation, though closely linked, is not the same as loneliness. Social isolation is a lack of social contacts, this can be measured by the number of relationships someone has or the size of their social network. Being socially isolated doesn’t necessarily mean you feel lonely.

Why is loneliness so prevalent among students?

As a student, you will experience many life changes such as going to university or starting the world of work, making new friends, or moving away from those you are close to.

Experiencing change and making life decisions can impact our sense of belonging – an emotional need to connect with, and be accepted by a group such as peer, community, religious and family groups. A lack of belonging can be linked to increased feelings of loneliness.

Although anyone can feel lonely, some groups are at higher risk of loneliness, such as people who belong to a minority group and live in an area without many people from a similar background, or people who experience discrimination because of their gender, race, sexual orientation, or disability.

How to tell if you’re lonely

Before we find out how to combat loneliness, it’s important to identify feelings of loneliness sooner rather than later to deal with the negative effects it can bring. One way is by looking out for the warning signs.

Here are just some of the signs you’re lonely.

  • You constantly feel tired
  • You don’t want to go outside
  • On the contrary, you want to but can’t bring yourself to
  • You’re buying more things than usual
  • You’re consuming more media and shows than normal
  • You’re spending a lot of time on your phone or social media
  • You feel unwell all the time
  • The thought of going to a social event fills you with dread
  • Your stress levels are a lot more intense to the point you’ve isolated yourself
  • You have a strong urge to ‘hide’ under your blanket


Wondering how to not feel lonely? Here’s how to cope with loneliness when those feelings arise.

  1. Practice affirmations for loneliness

If you’re wondering how to feel less lonely, one of the best ways is through affirmations. Believing in and practising affirmations for loneliness can feel weird, but it can genuinely help. After all, the more we tell ourselves something, we believe it to be true in good times.

  1. Practice caring for yourself

Loneliness can result in depression and anxiety. Coping with loneliness involves healing from within too. Stay hydrated, make full meals, get outside for fresh air, and try to keep the area around you clean of clutter. It will work wonders for your mind and body.

  1. Go to your lectures and classes

Skipping university is very tempting. Remember why you signed up for university in the first place. It’ll help you achieve your long-term goals and even form connections later down the line when you feel able to.

  1. Join a class, society or club online

Going to a society alone in person is very daunting. Why not pucker up the courage by doing it online instead? You may find like-minded people along the way who are in exactly the same position as you.

  1. Venture out

It’s very easy to potter about in our bedrooms. This won’t help you get out of the loneliness rut. Plus, we’re more susceptible to getting in our own heads when we’re physically shut off and alone in one room. Venture out. Even if it’s for five minutes around the corner to a local shop.

  1. Nurture your friendships

Reconnect with friends and/or nurture the relationships you do have. If you’ve tried your best to make new connections with your housemates or coursemates and things just aren’t working out, then this is your best bet. Your current loved ones will always have your back!

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