Blog: Student Loneliness – Here to help!

According to a recent survey, approximately 3 million people in the UK said they feel lonely. While loneliness is not a mental illness in and of itself, feeling lonely can negatively impact your mental health. Research suggests that loneliness can increase the risk of anxiety and depression. In addition, loneliness also has adverse effects on physical health.

Although loneliness is common across the population, it is a complex and unique experience, varying from person to person. This emotion can affect anyone, regardless of their age, gender, or ethnicity. However, in recent years, it has become more apparent that loneliness is affecting younger people including university and college students.

What causes loneliness in general?

Loneliness has many different causes. These vary from person to person. We don't always understand what it is about an experience that makes us feel lonely.

Certain life events or experiences may make you feel lonely, such as:

  • Experiencing a bereavement
  • Going through a relationship break-up
  • Retirement
  • Changing jobs
  • Starting at university or college
  • Experiencing mental health problems
  • Becoming a parent 
  • Moving to a new area or country without family, friends or community networks

You may feel lonely at certain times of the year. For example, around holidays like Christmas, Ramadan or Valentine's day.

Research suggests that some people are more vulnerable to loneliness than others. For example, if you:

  • Have no friends or family
  • Are estranged from your family
  • Are a single parent or care for someone else, and find it hard to maintain a social life
  • Belong to minority group and live in an area where there aren't many people with a similar background to you 
  • Are excluded from social activities because of mobility problems
  • Don't have much money for certain social activities
  • Are shielding because you're at risk of serious illness from COVID-19 or other conditions
  • Experience discrimination and stigma because of a disability or long-term health problem. For example, mental health problems or eating disorders
  • Experience discrimination and stigma because of your gender, race or your gender or sexual identity 
  • Have experienced sexual or physical abuse, which may mean you find it harder to form close relationships with other people

Why do students feel lonely at university?

When starting university or college, many students will leave their homes and move away from their friends and family and enter a completely new environment. With this move comes a new set of pressures and expectations. These include academic demands, making friends and ‘fitting in’. It can be a daunting experience, leading many students to spend more time alone. In some instances, spending time alone can be beneficial for your mental health, giving you time to self-reflect and be productive. However, when the feelings of loneliness and isolation persist, they can lead to low self-esteem, sleep problems and increased stress.

Post-school studies can be a fun and exciting experience, but it can also be demanding. Adjusting to a new environment, increased workload and financial worries are just a few of the demands students face when starting at university or college. According to a recent survey, 26% of students admit to feeling lonely often or always. As a student, you’re not alone in feeling lonely. The commonality of this emotion makes it very likely that someone you know is also struggling.

Our college campuses are open to all students which provide warm spaces and social areas.

How to deal with loneliness? 

In a recent study published in the Journal of Public Mental Health, researchers sought to understand the relationship between loneliness and mental health in students. The data collected suggested that greater loneliness led to greater anxiety, stress, and depression. As a result, when loneliness arises, it must be tackled early on before it leads to debilitating mental health problems. If you feel these feelings arising, or want to learn more about dealing with loneliness, here are some tips to help you:

Meet new people: You may feel lonely, but you’re not alone. Universities and colleges are a very social environment, and there are plenty of opportunities to meet new people. Joining a club or society is one option. Not only will this enable you to meet new people, but it will also encourage you to partake in a sport or activity that you enjoy. It is a great way to meet like-minded people and help you become part of a wider community.

Volunteering: Helping a local charity or community group is a great way to combat loneliness. In a recent study, involving 10,000 volunteers, 68% of participants agreed that volunteering helped them feel less isolated (this was highest in 18-24 year olds). The same study found that 77% of participants agreed that volunteering had improved their mental health and wellbeing. As a result, volunteering can help reduce the feelings associated with loneliness and give you a sense of purpose as you help those in need.

Keep in touch: Just because you’re moving away from home doesn’t mean you should lose contact with your friends and family. It is important to build new relationships, but it is equally important you don’t neglect your old relationships. Friends and family play a vital role in protecting your mental health by fostering a sense of belonging and purpose. Whenever you need to, call up your friends or message your family. They’ll appreciate it as much as you do.

Group exercise: Physical activity has a range of benefits for both the body and mind. These benefits vary from lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease to improving mood and self-esteem. There are also social benefits of physical activity. Partaking in group exercise is an effective way to meet new people and obtain much needed social connections. These group settings can help create a sense of belonging, helping reduce feelings of loneliness.

Talking therapy: Dealing with loneliness and social isolation can be overwhelming. If you feel ready, you should consider talking to a mental health professional. Those wishing to seek treatment should not feel ashamed. Talking to a professional can take a lot of trust and courage. Through counselling, you can explore who you are, identify your values and work on your health and wellbeing. Therapy can help you understand why you feel lonely, which can help you combat the cause of these feelings. It can also provide coping skills which can encourage you to become more social.

Health and wellbeing support from UHI North, West and Hebrides

Sometimes your situation might feel overwhelming, and you might want to discuss personal problems, old or new, with one of our trained counsellors. You can access counselling sessions through or the UHI online counselling service.

All counselling and mental health services are now delivering therapeutic support and mental health advice in person, online and via telephone, so you can access help wherever you are. Information on how to do so can be found on our counselling pages.

UHI has a 24/7 mental health phoneline. The phone lines are staffed by trained counsellors and psychotherapists, and students can ring or use WhatsApp/SMS to reach out:

Phone: 0800 031 8227

Text ‘Hi’ to WhatsApp or SMS: 07418 360780

There is also a Health and Wellbeing Facebook page which offers a wealth of support, advice and information around all matters related to wellbeing and student life.

Find out more about the services we are offering via our student support website Student Support - UHI North, West and Hebrides

Other helpful resources

Staying Healthy - Student Mental Health Support (

Loneliness - Every Mind Matters - NHS (

Emotional support / wellbeing | University of the Highlands and Islands (

Support for your wellbeing and mental health - Staying Healthy (

Support for your wellbeing and mental health - Student Assistance Programme - Spectrum.Life (

Get help with loneliness | British Red Cross

Breathing Space is a free confidential service for people in Scotland. Open up when you're feeling down - phone 0800 83 85 87

LGBT Health and Wellbeing

Helplines - Beat (

Home - Mind