Tackling loneliness at university

September 27 2023

White curve
This autumn, with millions starting university, Stuart Andrew, Minister for Loneliness, launched a campaign to tackle the issue. Will it make a difference?


Stuart Andrew has partnered with charities including Student Minds and Sporting Wellness and wants students to open up and talk to each other.

There has been a mixed response to the campaign, with some suggesting that it is tokenistic and lacks meaningful infrastructure or long-term solutions. 


Young person looking ahead, their image reflected in a window, with highrise building in background.



Loneliness and mental health

Loneliness is certainly a key challenge for students. In a recent You Gov survey, the majority of students who responded to the poll said they felt lonely at some point, but nearly half were worried about being judged if they admitted to it.

There are clear correlations between loneliness and poor mental and physical health in young people, and between loneliness and lower academic attainment.



3 girls walking and talking

Great expectations

We know that positive peer friendships and relationships are a protective factor for mental health and can also reduce loneliness. Many young people will have gone through school with a steady group of friends formed over many years. Starting university, it can be a challenge to form new friendships.

The expectation is that they will have ‘the time of their life’ but it’s not always that easy. It can be more difficult for those who are shy or who don’t drink alcohol.


Vital social connections

Of course, loneliness doesn’t just affect university students; it can affect all young people, whether they have gone on to college, apprenticeships or work. Social connection is vital and school can be a natural environment for that.

Loneliness can affect all young people, whether they have gone on to college, apprenticeships or work.

Moving on from there is the challenge. It has been much more difficult for this generation of young people due to the pandemic, and we’re only now beginning to see the effects of that as part of the long tail of Covid.

Teenagers, as well as those with mental health difficulties, were particularly affected. Those years are crucial for social connection and that natural instinct to hang out with their friends was taken away from them. 


Youngish person sitting at laptop wearing headphones and smiling

Many make friends through social games online



Our work on loneliness

Finding what works

In terms of tackling loneliness, we need to focus on who is experiencing it, make it easier for them to say that they are struggling and find ways that achieve social connection that work for each individual.

For some, that might mean playing social games online, which can be a great way of making friends and having a social life. 


Loneliness as it relates to young people’s mental health and wellbeing is an important issue for the Trust. We are currently involved in a piece of research being carried out by Kings College London with new university students on their experience of loneliness and belonging.

It aims to find out whether there are certain groups or factors that make people more prone to loneliness or whether it is indiscriminate.

It's also looking at what can be done to make students feel more engaged.



2 women and a black man looking a a computer

Practical ideas

In addition to this, we’re part of a collaborative bid with University College London to create a novel, online intervention for loneliness targeted at students at both further education colleges and universities. 


Stigma to Strength podcast logo: the word 'stigma' is visibly crossed out

From stigma to strength

If you’re struggling with feelings of loneliness right now, take a look at our practical tips and strategies.

You could also listen to the brilliant Stigma to Strength podcast hosted by two of our student ambassadors, Kyanne and Eliza.  

And parents and teachers may like to explore the resources on loneliness we produced in partnership with CoRAY.


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