OPINION: Loneliness Will Be the Biggest Problem Students Face This Fall


Bert Kaufmann/Wikimedia Commons

It’s 2 a.m. and I am laying in bed at home, still awake. My mind is too busy trying to imagine what next semester will feel like. I can’t help but think: This tiny, empty room might be my next semester.

As we head towards fall, coronavirus cases continue to increase while we get mixed signals from our health officials and our government. Meanwhile, our faculty are doing their best to stay nimble and develop “hybrid” teaching methods. Sadly, they can’t save Mason from one of the larger problems our community will face this fall: loneliness.

How are campus connections going to work during these times? Will new students be able to build relationships within the confines of online schooling? Will the social dynamics of college remain intact?

I don’t know. As smart as our faculty are, they don’t really know either. What we do know is that loneliness was already getting worse before the coronavirus set the world on fire.

According to a January poll from Cigna, three out of five Americans report feeling lonely. Chronic loneliness has grave impacts on an individual’s mental and physical health.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), loneliness can have the same health impact as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. The APA also linked loneliness to a rise in anxiety and depression.

I don’t bring these statistics up to scare you, but to motivate you into acting on your loneliness. It’s not an imaginary health issue. It’s real. 

I’ve been to parties and felt completely alone. I’ve been alone and felt completely fulfilled. It’s strange, but that’s how loneliness works. It’s not always seen — it’s felt.

Just in case writing a think piece on loneliness wasn’t a sign that my anxiety is a little high, I will clear all confusion about my emotions here: I’m worried. I’m worried that I won’t be able to get a job. I’m worried that my grades will slip. I’m worried that I’m not going to make any friends.

Most of all, I’m worried about coronavirus. The disease that has infected millions of people and taken thousands of lives has shown no sign of slowing down.

But after writing all that, I feel a little less worried. Actually, a lot less worried. 

When I share what I’m feeling, even with a reader I may never meet, I feel a little less lonely. Just speaking your pain into the universe helps, even if no one is listening.

It’s easy to forget about the importance of mental health. We are too focused on the problems we perceive as greater. For the lucky ones, it is trying to find a quiet space in the house to Zoom. For the less fortunate, it can be trying to find a new apartment after unemployment has left them without rent money.

Not all problems are equal, but all problems are problems, and they all can make you feel like you’re the only one facing them — they all can make you feel lonely. But you’re not alone. 

Though the coronavirus has pierced every fragmented part of our society, it will not be the end of us, and there’s help if you need it. Connect with those who care:

  • National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • SAMHSA’s National Helpline 1-800-662-HELP (4357) 
  • GMU Student Health Services (703-993-2831)
  • Virginia COVID-19 Hotline 877-ASK-VDH3