You’re not alone in feeling alone: Over half of CSU students report feeling lonely

Tatiana Parafiniuk-Talesnick

Loneliness describes the feeling of being without friends or company — yet, in a community of thousands of people, more than half identify with that feeling.

In fall of 2013, 60 percent of Colorado State University students reported feeling alone, in a study by the National College Health Assessment, said Janelle Patrias, CSU’s manager of mental health initiatives. On the CSU campus, as well as on campuses around the the nation, students struggle with loneliness. It may seem that this abstract feeling is an inevitable aspect of the college experience.

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(Photo by: Jamie Rankin)
(Photo illustration: Jamie Rankin.)

“You’re more mentally and emotionally alone than you are physically — I think that’s what loneliness is,” said freshman psychology major Alyssa Casias. Like many college freshmen, Casias finds herself struggling with feeling alone in a crowd.

“There were plenty of times when I contemplated just leaving. I’m pretty sure I even called someone to come pick me up once,” Casias said, who hails from Pueblo, Colorado, which is about three hours away from campus.

Currently, there are about 32,000 CSU students enrolled. College may sound like an unlikely place to feel alone, and this may play a role in why students do feel alone — they expect to feel so connected.

“What perpetuates that myth is that people have this sense that college is supposed to be the best time of their life,” said Patrias. For Patrias, measuring a sense of belonging plays a big role in assessing mental health. 

“It’s really quite vital when you think about the tenets of positive psychology,” Patrias said. “Looking at things relating to well-being, we can identify that having a sense of belonging is very much a part of that.”

Alongside their peer institutions, CSU is working to provide an arsenal of tools to combat what may appear to be the inescapable plague of loneliness. Patrias said universities have been making an effort to help college students connect and succeed through programs such as freshmen orientation in the summer and Ram Welcome in the fall.

“I think that we’ve learned a lot over the last number of years around what does really help college students to be successful,” Patrias said. “There’s a lot of really good evidence behind that — these programs aren’t just picked out of the air on a whim, they’re very carefully and thoughtfully determined and decided upon.”

Once the school year is in full swing, or when loneliness hits past freshman year, other programs and organizations are in place to help CSU students establish connections and a community.

The Student Diversity Programs and Services exist to help students find a place — these programs include El Centro, Asian Pacific American Cultural Center, Black/African American Cultural Center, GLBT Resource Center, Women and Gender Advocacy Center, Resources for Disabled Students, Native American Cultural Center and the Adult Learner and Veteran Services. SLiCE, the Office of Student Leadership, Involvement and Community Engagement, works to connect students to their surrounding communities. They put all student organizations, student leaders and student volunteers under one umbrella — streamlining the process of getting involved.

Journalism and media communications students have recently been invited to participate in the launch of a new campaign called YOU@CSU. It is a program created by Joe Conrad, a CSU alum, to help students “succeed, thrive and matter.” This online program is a content-rich, interactive site helping motivate students to engage in their community to be a successful student.

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Despite best efforts and an evolving understanding of what students need, programming aimed at helping students to avoid loneliness can only go so far. Feeling all alone when experiencing a change is something that may just be a part of adulthood.

“No one talks to you about how you find that new community if you go somewhere new,” said Katy Russo, a career education manager for the College of Liberal Arts. Russo just finished graduate school with a masters in higher education leadership and started working for CSU at the end of July. She has only been living in Fort Collins for a matter of months, Russo said she is beginning to build her community, not unlike those she mentors.

“I joke that there’s no user guide to how to make friends after college,” Russo said. “Frankly, it’s really true. It requires a lot of vulnerability and putting yourself in these uncomfortable moments or spaces where you kind of have nothing to lose.”

For Russo, re-learning what it means to be in a new community has been a process. Grappling with a sense of disconnection or isolation may not be a feeling limited to the wide-eyed freshmen or the introverts. It is a process that students will continue to have to learn to undergo.

“I think one of the things I really see value in is helping students to understand that they are by no means alone,” Patrias said. “Really, this sense of isolation and loneliness is absolutely universal.”

Collegian Reporter Tatiana Talesnick-Parafiniuk can be reached online at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @tatianasophiapt.