The Hidden Pandemic

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For the last seven months, the Government has made combatting the Coronavirus pandemic a priority in order to save lives. Loneliness, on the other hand, has not had even half of the same attention, despite it too being a pandemic negatively affecting the lives of many students. 

2020 freshers’ nationwide are being confined with only an average 13.4 square metre en-suite to call their own. Physical contact is limited to unknown flatmates, with support systems like families torn away. Yet, there is still an expectation of business as usual despite this being the worst global crisis in students’ lifetimes. Loneliness, of course, was going to be a part of these adolescents’ covid-uni experience, however, students were not prepared for just how isolating their first semester would be. 

In the months leading up to joining university, it’s likely you were bombarded with advice on how to “be” a fresher. Parents, peers or even the media will have told you how to budget, cook, make friends and even how to party, safely. Whilst the 411 lowdown prepares you for the more exciting aspects of uni life, rarely do people talk about what to do when your university experience is not living up to be the “best days of your life”. 

Loneliness affects even the best of us at times, but coronavirus has exacerbated this hidden pandemic. Even before isolation became a part of our new norm, a 2019 survey conducted by Higher Education Policy Group Wohnke found that nearly a third of students admitted to feeling lonely on a weekly basis with over 15% saying they felt lonely every single day of term. With this being back when we WERE allowed to socialise with whoever we wanted, whenever we wanted without breaking the law.

Image Credit: Josie Espinosa-Brown. Instagram: @byjosieespinosa. Wesbite: www.josieespinosaart.weebly.com/

Students have suffered in silence for long enough and although the Government may not be treating loneliness as a priority, that doesn’t mean that we, as students, also have to brush it under the carpet.

We can all come together and help each other through this strange and difficult time. Here are some tips to reduce feelings of loneliness.

1. Don’t bottle it up

To remove the stigma associated with loneliness, we must talk about it openly and as much as we can. This may sound simple but talking can sometimes be the best strategy. Talk about your own experiences or offer a supportive and judgement free ear to someone else. Loneliness can affect anyone at any time and even a sociable person who ordinarily seems very happy CAN feel just as lonely as someone in complete isolation. So, check up on your peers – even the stronger ones – you never know who could be struggling.

Don’t have anyone you feel like you can talk to? 

That’s okay. At university, it can actually be really difficult to find friends; never mind when the only chance you get to meet peers is online! The student union team, however, are always on hand to help. So, pop them an email about how you are feeling and a lovely advisor will be able to help and hopefully find you some supportive pals! 
Alternatively, Leeds nightline operates 8pm-2am every day of term so that, if things do get a bit overwheming, you can call them anonymously and chat about whatever is on your mind! Many students find nightline a supportive haven so don’t be scared to give it a try.

2. Get some fresh air

With learning moving online, it can be easy to fall into the trap of never leaving your accommodation. Fresh air and exercise though are so important for good mental wellbeing, so do make an effort to leave your flat every day! Whether it is just for a walk around the block or you want to adventure further afield, try get in your daily steps. Seeing other faces, even socially distanced, can really ease the feeling of isolation!

3. Don’t isolate yourself

Although online lectures can feel quite unnatural, always participate as much as you can. If you’re feeling lonely, interaction can help so turn on your camera and microphone and join in with your peer’s discussion! Message people on your course to organise an hour on zoom to prepare seminars together, join the online societies that interest you, facetime your family and friends if you’re missing them and try to socialise with the people you live with. 

This year of uni will be challenging however, that doesn’t mean it has to be lonely. Pluck up the courage to join in the conversation and don’t suffer in silence, there’s plenty of people who want to help!  

Header Image Credit: Josie Espinosa-Brown. Instagram: @byjosieespinosa. Wesbite: www.josieespinosaart.weebly.com/