Q&A about loneliness
Do you feel lonely at times? You are not alone in this. Many people in our society experience loneliness, young people and students among them. That is why researcher Gerine Lodder and student psychologist Margreet van Laarhoven made a video about loneliness and social isolation and how to deal with them. They now answer the questions most frequently asked by Tilburg University students.
Is it true that many people cannot acknowledge them being alone and suffering from loneliness?
Margreet van Laarhoven: As a student psychologist I meet a specific group of students: those who contact me because they experience psychological or mental complaints. Loneliness can be one such complaint. As with all other mental or psychological complaints people may have, individuals differ in how difficult they find it to acknowledge loneliness. They also differ in deciding when their loneliness is sufficiently ‘problematic’ to them to reach out for help. As with stress-related complaints, some contact us after a few weeks, others wait a year or longer before they do.
Gerine Lodder: Research shows that loneliness is a taboo subject. Many young people who feel lonely don't talk about it with anyone. We also see that people differ in when they refer to something as lonely. Sometimes people avoid the word, but they meet the characteristics. For example, because they miss deep contact with someone else. We think that this can be a problem for young people in particular, because they also have the impression that everyone around them has a thriving social life, and that they are the exeption. This isn't true, of course: loneliness is common at all stages of life. But this idea does reinforce the feeling that loneliness is something you should be ashamed of, and that makes it harder to talk about.
How can I meet new people at university?
Margreet van Laarhoven: “People most often connect because they have something in common, such as their studies, a flat, or a particular interest." Here are some options:
- Ask a question or make a comment about your shared context, for example when you’re on campus, in your student flat, or at work. This may well prompt a short chat and the other person can now put a name to the face. Next time you happen to meet or run into each other, you can take it from there, and in this way you can put some contacts on a firmer footing.
- Join a study society, a volunteer organization (such as the Red Cross Student Desk), the Sports Center, a sports club, a book club – something that is a match with your interests.
- Talk to others to find out what your needs are and what opportunities align with them. Your student mentor can also help you reflect on this. It is as well to remember that not every initiative you take results in a long-term or meaningful connection.
Do you offer something to meet new people, without having to pay for a student association?
Margreet van Laarhoven: Yes, for example;
- Tilburg University Chaplaincy
- TiU Walks
- Red Cross Student Desk
- International students can go to International Center Tilburg
- Students who want to connect with fellow students can use the meet up functionality within the free Uni-Life app
- If you want to know what there is to do for students in the city of Tilburg, you can consult the Tilburg Student App
When is stress a reason to seek counseling?
Margreet van Laarhoven: "Just as soon as the stress level causes such problems as sleeping badly, having a hard time to focus (and as a result being unable to keep up with your studies), or having emotional outbursts (crying fits, panic attacks, irritability). Share such issues sooner rather than later and be aware that it often takes a while before help sought can actually be given."
Then again, contacting a student psychologist need not always be your first course of action. Why not reach out to friends, fellow students, your mentor, or your degree program coordinator first? It may help to remember that it is extremely unlikely that you are the only one to experience stress. Sharing your experiences and receiving support and tips from others may ease some of your burden.
Gerine Lodder: If you notice that your lonely feeling is not going away, it can be useful to seek help. In some cases, you might start with trying to connect more. For example, if you're only doing a new study for a few months. Or if you've just moved to another city. In these cases there is an identifiable reason for your feelings of loneliness. In other cases it will be useful to seek help. If it takes longer, for example. Or if loneliness was also a problem for you in high school. Or if you have tried everything but you can't figure it out yourself. Sometimes this may be with a student psychologist, but in other cases help from a practice nurse at the general practitioner or from a psychologist outside the university may be more appropriate. You can contact your GP for this.
Can students see a psychologist at university?
Margreet van Laarhoven: Yes, they can. We offer online and on-campus consultations. A word of caution though: the help we as student psychologists can offer is limited to on average three meetings per student and is for that reason not suited to the needs of students with chronic or serious personal issues. If you have any questions about this, please contact us by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org We will reply as soon as we can.
Student psychologists Annelies Aquarius, Jos Haarbosch and Margreet van Laarhoven offer online consultations and consultations on campus. For questions, contact email@example.com