5 strategies to help students combat loneliness

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A lonely college student sits alone at a cafe. We’re living through a loneliness epidemic, and young adults and students are among those most affected. And it’s no wonder, when their minds race between thoughts such as, “How do I handle this challenge?” to “What do I want to do with my life?”

College is a trying experience. New students are moving away from home for the first time and adjusting to being on their own, all while juggling academic loads that could shape their life paths. It’s hard to manage and can easily create a breeding ground for loneliness. Read along as we explore five strategies colleges can use to help students combat loneliness.

1. Promote social connection

Although social connections certainly aren’t everything — and students can feel lonely regardless of who else is present — they still have the potential to impact students struggling with loneliness. Professors and college personnel can do their part to build connections. 

Use social education techniques 

Lectures and presentations impart valuable information, but they’re the part of the college experience that’s strictly academic. College is arguably just as much about finding your place in the world, so the classroom experience should provide more. 

In this sense, students can build connections via cooperative learning projects. Group projects that require collaboration usually draw mixed reactions — after all, figuring out how to split up tasks and understand others’ needs is challenging — but are largely proven to combat loneliness and social anxiety.

Foster a supportive campus 

What does the student support ecosystem look like on campus? Active support services can provide opportunities for students to hear and learn from others who have “been there” before — whether through a mentor, tutor or peer. In particular, social support groups for discussing problems and connecting with others can help students start college on the right foot.

Offer and encourage group participation

College students want to find their place and explore their passions, and group activities help with both. That might mean joining a fraternity or sorority to make friends. You also can’t deny the value of physical activities. Offering clubs or structured sports programs quells loneliness and fosters connectedness while boosting serotonin levels and encouraging fitness.

But what about the big picture? Schools can also cast a wider net by encouraging students to participate in mission-focused activities, such as politics or charity, to help them feel like they’re part of something that makes a difference.

2. Offer individual support

Staff, especially professors who have a rapport with students, can enable success both inside and outside of the classroom. Offering individual support might require a time investment, but it can help students understand that they have somewhere to turn. 

Regular engagement between students and teachers

Students not only look to professors for academic support and knowledge, but also some level of personal support. Think back to your favorite teacher. Ever chat about your feelings? It’s common, as students seek trusted authority figures.

Professors can foster high-quality engagement with individual students to promote connection. Quality engagement means minimizing distractions and avoiding multitasking during conversations, both to strengthen the rapport and serve as an example for students. When students see the benefits of being responsive and supportive, they’re empowered to take those lessons into their own interactions.

3. Provide free resources  

Schools aren’t limited to teacher engagement or social solutions to combat loneliness. The campus itself can go above and beyond for mental health support via free on- and off-site solutions. 

On-campus mental health centers

Does your campus have a student support center? Many colleges offer centers students can visit in person, staffed with counselors or psychologists. These centers provide another option to supplement external mental health services. Students can regularly use these centers to obtain tools to combat loneliness or take mental health assessments, but they are also available for one-off needs, such as an intense time of crisis.

Direct students to their behavioral health plan benefits 

Young adult students are often still on their parent’s insurance, so they likely have coverage to combat loneliness and other mental health concerns through counseling, medication and more. But even if they’re on Medicaid, members can still connect with their health plans to explore services that balance both health and cost needs, such as community services.

Learn how Pyx Health partners with universities to address the student mental  health crisis and loneliness on campus.

4. Encourage mental health counseling

Asking for help is hard, especially when students feel they’re supposed to be finding their independence. But mental health counseling isn’t a sign of weakness. Encouraging counseling can empower students to recognize their loneliness and take action to get better. 

Understand loneliness

“Why do I feel like this?” “How do I fix it?”

Sometimes the hardest part of loneliness for young adults and students is wrapping their heads around it. Professional therapists can work to help them understand the root causes of their loneliness — whether it’s lack of desired connections, loss of a loved one or something else — and chart a course to cope with and overcome it. For young people, it’s easy to get hung up on negative thoughts (e.g., ”People don’t like me,” or “I’ll never fit in”), but a therapist can help break down that wall and separate negative thoughts from facts.

5. Understand and address loneliness more effectively

Whether you encourage students to build social connections inside the classroom or provide helpful resources to manage their challenges, you can help students combat loneliness. Doing so can set them on a positive trajectory for both academic performance and health outcomes.

But you don’t have to do it alone! Pyx Health supplements these efforts by providing students with self-service tools to combat loneliness on their favorite device — their smartphone!

It’s a lot to say: “I’m struggling and need help.” The Pyx Health app helps students feel comfortable in a digital space, with access to interactive activities and assessments to put their finger on their loneliness and begin to address it. It includes the built-in Pyxir chatbot, which provides resources dedicated to young adult challenges, including body image issues, relationship management, LGBTQIA+ support and more. But we also know the value of having an ear to listen. That’s why members also receive access to our dedicated support staff — ANDYs (Authentic, Nurturing, Dependable, Your Friend) — who are specially trained in youth and young adult loneliness to talk via phone calls or messages.

Are you surprised by the extent of loneliness among students? The face of loneliness is different than you think! Explore our infographic to get a closer look at the true picture of loneliness across demographics.

Cover of the Higher Education Executive Brief