As we reach the midpoint between the start of the academic year and winter vacation, this can often be a time when students, and especially new students, may struggle if they are still feeling homesick or have not made the friends or connections they thought they would have by now. I therefore spoke to Hannah Moore (Mental Health and Wellbeing Project Officer) in Student Support who runs a number of social interventions for students who experience loneliness whilst at University. Reducing student loneliness is a big priority for universities across the country, and Bath is no exception.
Hannah is a member of a working group with staff from across the University and the SU who are passionate about combatting loneliness amongst the student population. This group meets regularly to review research and HE sector guidance on reducing student loneliness and has developed a wide-ranging action plan that individuals and departments across the University are working on to ensure our students have a choice of support available if they are feeling lonely or isolated. Hannah and the working group are also grateful to those students who have experienced loneliness at Bath and who have reviewed and contributed to this action plan, showing how important student voice is when planning support options.
Students can feel lonely for all kinds of reasons, including - but not limited to - social anxiety, feeling homesick, feeling “different” or a sense of “otherness”, imposter syndrome, or experiencing a personal struggle that makes them feel very alone.
I asked Hannah how she felt academics and support staff could encourage social connections and help to reduce loneliness. A student might approach any of us and disclose feelings of isolation or loneliness, so it is useful to have an awareness of how to talk to them about this and where we could signpost them.
So, what exactly is available if a student feels lonely at Bath? Well, a lot more then my blog could possibly cover, but to give you an idea:
Student Support runs a number of regular supported social groups which aim to enable the forming of friendships, social connections and support networks, such as the weekly Social Networking Group, Autism Social Group and a newly launched Talk Club for male students. Campus buddies are available to first year students that identify on the autism spectrum, experience mental health difficulties relating to social anxiety or who have social communication difficulties to help with the transition to University and settling into the University environment. The International Support Service is available to all international students and there are lots of great LGBTQ+ student support options. Umii is a free app that can connect University of Bath students based on their shared interests and the Be Well App (bath.ac.uk) lists so many more wellbeing events and activities.
The SU offers a huge range of social opportunities for students to connect and increase their sense of belonging – you can always check out What’s On! New undergraduate students can also talk to their peer mentor about being at Uni, getting involved in activities and any other concerns they may have. Volunteering can help people make friends and feel part of a community and the Diversity and Support Groups enable students to meet like-minded people (such as groups for mature students, feminism and gender equality, race equality, disability action and more).
Elsewhere across the University, departments such as Student Living have an exciting programme of activities for students in University Halls that I featured in my last blog, the Doctoral College runs a fortnightly Doctoral Café for PhD students to take a break from research and connect with their peers, and the Student Experience Officers are always busy looking out for students who are struggling and linking them in with the amazing support available.
Hannah and I also discussed the recent WonkHE article The four foundations of belonging at university, (which I highly recommend everyone reads) that highlights the importance of a “whole institution approach” to enhancing student belonging. This also illustrates how learning and teaching can play a role in reducing social isolation by academics looking for opportunities to get students to talk to each other during learning activities, e.g. group work, seminars, labs, group tutorials. I asked Hannah for her top three tips for what any staff member could do if you think a student might be lonely or isolated and she suggested:
- It’s ok to ask a student if they are lonely (best in an individual conversation)
- Signpost them to all the great support (see above)
- Check in with them a few weeks later to see if things have improved
For more tips and guidance see Student Loneliness - a guide for academic and support staff (bath.ac.uk) and for a bigger overview of all the support available for students experiencing loneliness and isolation please visit Getting support if you or someone else is feeling lonely or isolated (bath.ac.uk)
It's really great to see this central issue being featured. Here is an evidence-based toolkit for adults who support young people that may also have some helpful tips https://www.bath.ac.uk/publications/loneliness-and-reconnection-guide/