They call it the “epidemic of loneliness“. In 2018, according to one big study, 47% of Americans said they were lonely; only 53% said they have “meaningful in-person social interactions, such as having an extended conversation with a friend or spending quality time with family, on a daily basis”. And, according to the same study, members of Generation Z (ages 18-25) reported these feelings the most.
Temporary loneliness can be bad enough, but scientists are learning that prolonged loneliness can be unhealthy in many ways. It can be devastating psychologically – studies report correlations between loneliness and anxiety, depression, and attempted suicide. These connections are bad enough, but there is also evidence that loneliness contributes to greater risk of infections, premature aging, and even cancer.
So this is a damaging, dangerous problem for today’s college students, and for the country as a whole. And, the problem may be growing.
The University of Florida has great organizations and services to help students resolve problems and better their mental health. UF’s Care Team and U Matter We Care initiative direct students easily to the resources available. The staff at the Counseling and Wellness Center do an excellent job providing a variety of individual and group therapy and services for wellness.
There’s a big challenge here, however. Even if only a quarter of UF’s 52,000 students are suffering from chronic loneliness, that’s still 13,000 Gators with a damaging, demoralizing problem. The Counseling and Wellness Center can only serve the most serious of mental health cases. (In 2018, 5800 clients – an impressive number, but not enough to help everyone who might need it.)
For adults living in Gainesville, the problem is even worse. Six month waits to see a therapist are common, assuming your health insurance covers mental health at all. So many adults just end up living in isolation, which only makes the problems worse.
So, as in any epidemic, our best institutions are under stress. But what can we do? Like in any epidemic, our best help will be to help ourselves to be healthy.
Students who say they are lonely are often given the advice to join a student group, and this is good advice for resolving social isolation. But social isolation is only one type of loneliness. What if there was a group specifically designed to help students overcome loneliness? One that had activities and resources based on research about what works to beat all the different kinds of loneliness?
This is our mission: to bring together people who are feeling lonely and provide them with ways to meet people and have fun while they learn about the best research-backed ways to beat loneliness. We want to complement, not replace, the existing services and organizations. We want to reach people who often feel deeply lonely but don’t think what they have is “serious enough” for a counselor.
We want to help all students who need it to find a way out of loneliness, in whatever form it takes for them.