Me, myself and loneliness

Despite a successful modelling career, international fan base and thousands of friends on Facebook, 22-year-old Korean-born Daul Kim was desperately lonely. After writing of her loneliness on her blog, Kim took her own life in November last year.

Thousands of friends, hundreds of smiling profile pictures, but an underlying feeling of being alone. If this sounds like you, you aren’t alone.


Research suggests that even being surrounded by friends can still mean you feel lonely. Photo Anneka James

According to Robin Dunbar, professor of evolutionary anthropology at the University of Oxford, regardless of how many online friends you have, the human mind is unable to maintain relationships with more than about 150 acquaintances.

In a recent study, Dunbar found that social networking sites have not enhanced the brain’s capacity to have anymore than 150 relationships, despite users often having hundreds more: “The interesting thing is that you can have 1,500 friends, but when you actually look at the traffic on sites, you see people maintain the same inner circle of around 150 people that we observe in the real world,” Dunbar told The Sunday Times.

Louise*, a student from the University of Lincoln used to have around 1,000 friends on social networking site
Facebook. Even though she has cut her friends list down to 373, her feelings of  loneliness haven’t subsided: “I tend to feel lonely most weeks. A lot of my friends live in various places across the country so it’s hard to see them on a regular basis. Some I haven’t seen in years,” she says.

At 24 years old, Louise believes that a contributing factor to her loneliness is her being a couple of years older than her
fellow university friends: “It certainly reached a new level in my first year at university. That year was the most
difficult; having to discover a new place and find new friends,” she remembers.

She admits that the heavy workload from her course often forces her to spend a lot of time on her own, as well as the times when she just chooses to spend a night in: “If there’s an event on that most of my course mates are going to, but which I don’t want to attend, I tend to feel singled out and alone,” Louise explains.

Psychotherapist Gael Lindenfield says that it is normal to feel lonely when moving to university, as you loose the deep connections you had with friends and family before you moved: “It takes time to develop these deep connections with new people and after a couple of months you begin to make a couple of relationships and get closer to people.”

Parents in particular feel that they have to leave their children alone at this time and not interfere, so often it is the student who has to ask for support: “If you are feeling lonely, keep in contact with those people back home who are really
important and those who matter most,” Lindenfield advises.

Louise explains that she does tell people about her sense of loneliness if she is asked, but believes that there is a still a stigma attached: “A lot of people do not tend to admit that they get lonely. I think most of the time people are embarrassed to admit they get lonely, particularly young people,” she says.

Even when you are surrounded by people you can still feel lonely. Lindenfield agrees: “The worst kind of lonely is where you feel lonely in a crowd, as you feel that you’re to blame and that you can’t talk about it.”

In order to avoid her loneliness Louise keeps busy and to avoid being bored and lonely, she’s looked for work and goes to the gym. However, Lindenfield warns that being active is only a temporary distraction: “These [activities] will not get rid of it. People do this and still feel lonely and then they begin to worry. This sense of loneliness is about having close personal relationships that we need to feed us emotionally, not about superficial ones,” she says.

Lindenfield says that loneliness is only temporary and after a month or so students will begin to know the people they’ll be close to and can start to nurture those relationships.

However, if the loneliness does not go away, it may be time to get professional help. “There’s no shame in going to the counsellor and they will help tremendously,” she says.

– Names have been changed to protect identities

The University of Lincoln’s Counselling Services Team is made up of experienced, professionally trained counsellors and is available to help both full and part-time students with anything that’s worrying them.

The team can be found at the Brayford Pool campus, Chad Varah House, Risholme campus and the Derek Crothall Building in Hull.

To make an appointment, e-mail: counsellors@lincoln.ac.uk, or phone Student Services on 01522 88 61 81.

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