Alone in Feeling Lonely?

Increasingly students are acknowledging feelings of loneliness. In some ways, it's difficult to understand. How can students feel lonely in the midst of 42,000 other U-M students?

We all need social connection, a sense of belonging. Without that, any of us can feel lonely. In particular, students may feel lonely because: 

  • They may have high expectations to find their best and life-long friends within the first few weeks of classes.
  • They may have a skewed perception that "everyone else has friends but I don’t."
  • Phones and social media can create a virtual connection instead of a live one. Students joke about everyone walking across the campus with earbuds in their ears and eyes on their phones, but it's not a joke. Students can feel more disconnected when they depend primarily on their phones for a sense of connection.
  • They may need to learn and practice skills for making friends. Maybe friends from their hometown were always "just there" and meeting strangers in a new environment feels different. For some, this is also liberating, an opportunity to explore a new self. Yet, friendships don’t necessarily blossom automatically – making friends can take time and effort.

How can you help?

  • You might ask whether your student feels lonely, or knows another student who might feel lonely. To open the conversation, you could encourage your student to watch this video about loneliness made by a Cornell University student, then ask them about their own experience.
  • Normalize feelings of loneliness. If your student feels lonely, they are certainly not alone, although college students are not often equipped to name it or talk about it.
  • Encourage your student to be mindful of when their phone usage fosters connection and when it's more of a crutch.
  • Encourage your student to explore opportunities for connection with others, and to discuss feelings of loneliness. U-M offers peer-facilitated groups such as Wolverine Support Network,  individual counseling through Counseling and Psychological Services (see link below) and Wellness Coaching through Wolverine Wellness. Other opportunities might involve attending small gatherings, e.g. in their residence hall, or getting to know classmates in study groups.
  • Consider together how to build skills for social connection. If social anxiety contributes to feelings of loneliness, students can gain and practice skills with Counseling and Psychological Services' individual counselingsocial anxiety group, and the #Anxiety Toolbox.

Of course, each student’s path is their own. For some students, joining clubs/organizations or attending social gatherings is a great way to meet new people, and for others, this may sound like a nightmare. With your help and support, students can find their own way towards rich friendships.


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