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There Are a Lot of Lonely People in College

There Are a Lot of Lonely People in College

01.13.20
Photo: JHU Sheridan Libraries/Gado/Getty Images
01.13.20

Lena Bertozzi is a student at University of California, Berkeley and was an intern at Hopelab, where this story was originally published.

When I Googled “lonely Berkeley,” I found several Reddit threads of students expressing crushing loneliness at U.C. Berkeley. In one post titled “Feel so lonely I could cry,” the author wrote: “I study alone 24/7 and walk home alone and cry alone everyday.” The comments section is filled with dozens of people sharing similar stories. Several of them kindly invited the author to get coffee or to study together. Others offered ways that they cope with their own loneliness.

Sadberkeleygirl is not alone in feeling lonely. There are a lot of lonely people in college. Hopelab’s National Survey of social media use and mental health among young people asked survey participants aged 18 to 22 (within the survey population of 14- to 22-year-olds) how often each of them identified with these statements.

Data from Hopelab, which uses science to improve the well-being of teens and young adults.

In theory, that means four out of six people in my study group feel like no one really knows them; 20 of 30 at my friend’s party; 120 of 180 in my dining hall; 600 of 900 in my data science lecture. You get the picture.

There are a lot of lonely people in college, and few of them think anyone around them experiences the same sort of loneliness they do. We don’t learn to openly talk about loneliness, so how could they?

This lack of awareness about the scope of loneliness in college is reflected in recent research by Dr. Kali Trzesniewski and Dr. Susan Ebeler from University of California, Davis. Their survey of first-year students found that 47 percent said it was somewhat or a lot harder to make friends than they expected. Even more staggering, 55 percent said they felt that other students were making friends more easily than they were.

No one, including myself, wants to admit to having a hard time making new friends or strengthening existing relationships. Surely that would suggest there is something fundamentally wrong with you. We think friendship is supposed to be magical and shouldn’t require effort — especially when you get to college, where you’re supposed to meet lifelong friends in the first week. At least that’s what social media tell us.

It doesn’t come as a surprise that, according to science, this simply isn’t the case. Relationships, including friendships, are not magical. They require practice taking risks and getting outside of one’s own comfort zone.

Sadberkeleygirl felt like she was the only person at Berkeley who didn’t feel confident and comfortable with their social life. After posting to Reddit, she was shown that not only were other people experiencing those very same emotions, but they also wanted to put in effort to develop friendships with her.

If we all recognize that most people need a little help making new friends and access to the resources that provide us with that help, maybe we could all be a little less lonely.

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