Humans are social creatures, but several studies show an increasing number of people struggles with loneliness. This is especially true for minorities: A 2019 report by the British Red Cross found those from Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds are at a higher risk of succumbing to isolation because they’re more likely to experience discrimination, feelings of not belonging, and barriers to accessing community services.

Additional research conducted in September 2016 focusing on Canadian university students found widespread isolation on campuses.

In a survey of more than 43,000 students, more than 66 per cent reported feeling “very lonely” in the past year, a sentiment that was more pronounced in female students (70 per cent) vs. male students (59 percent). 

Now, a new study on aging and loneliness provides fresh insight into the phenomenon and provides clues on how to stave it off.

For their paper, a team at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine interviewed 30 adults between the ages of 67 and 92 who were living in a senior housing community in San Diego.

Despite their communal setting, 85 per cent of the residents reported some degree of loneliness.  

Loneliness triggers

Through their interviews, researchers identified three main themes:

  • Age-associated losses of spouses, siblings, and friends, as well as a lack of social skills, were identified as the primary factors of loneliness. “Some residents … mentioned how making new friends in a senior community cannot replace deceased friends they grew up with,” first author Alejandra Paredes, Ph.D., a research fellow in the Department of Psychiatry at UC San Diego School of Medicine, said in a statement.
  • Loneliness was frequently associated with a lack of purpose. 
  • Wisdom and compassion appeared to prevent it. “One participant spoke of a technique she had used for years, saying ‘if you’re feeling lonely, then go out and do something for somebody else.’ That’s proactive,” said Jeste.

Other protective factors, according to the paper, were acceptance of the aging process and finding comfort with being alone. 

Loneliness in academia

In a 2016 interview with the CBC, David Ness, director of student counselling at the University of Manitoba, encouraged students who feel overwhelmed and alone to join student groups or reach out to counsellors or mentors to build a sense of belonging.

Finding a sense of community is important for mental health, and it could have a lasting impact, given the fact that students battling loneliness are less likely to get good grades and complete their degrees.

How to cope

Tips on dealing with loneliness on campus, according to the University and Colleges Admission Service in the UK (UCAS), include:

  • Getting in tune with your feelings to better determine loneliness triggers.
  • Make social plans, even if you don’t feel like it. “The companionship will lift your mood, and reduce feelings of isolation,” UCAS says.
  • Delete social media networks that make you feel lonely or unhappy.
  •  Try to get a good night’s sleep.
  • Confide in people you trust, even if they’re living far away.

Thumbnail image courtesy: Unsplash/Victoria Heath