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New government research shows ‘lonely’ seems to be the hardest word for students

  • Nearly all students say they felt lonely at least once during the last academic year, yet almost half have hidden feelings of loneliness because they fear no one will understand
  • 60% said they would strike up a conversation with a friend if they mentioned feeling lonely
  • Government partners with Wingstop, Sporting Wellness and Student Radio to boost campaign to tackle stigma around loneliness
  • Small acts of kindness such as starting a conversation or inviting someone out for a tea or coffee help to combat loneliness

As students prepare for freshers’ week, new research commissioned by the Government has found that while loneliness is experienced by almost all students (92%), nearly half (43%) worry they would be judged if they admitted to feeling lonely.

The research, collected by YouGov, has indicated that over half (53%) feel more uncomfortable seeking help for loneliness; a higher proportion than any other concern listed.

The sample of more than 1,000 students highlighted that concerns about loneliness (52%) came ahead of other major concerns including managing money (49%), course difficulty (49%), finding suitable housing (26%) or even ‘fitting in’ (48%).

However, the research found there was little judgement from others towards those that admitted to feeling lonely. Almost nine in ten (87%) students disagreed they would judge someone who said they felt this way, while 60% said they would strike up a conversation with a friend if they mentioned feeling lonely.

This new research comes as the Government partners with international restaurant chain Wingstop.  A free campaign on the chain’s in-store digital screens and social media channels will encourage students to get together at meal times and direct them to the Better Health – Every Mind Matters website which has resources and support for loneliness and mental health issues.

The Government is also partnering with charity Sporting Wellness, as well as the Student Radio Association, Student Roost and Student Minds, to raise awareness of the campaign and its resources through their channels and university focused activities. This aims to make young people feel more comfortable talking about loneliness, addressing the stigma as well as pointing them to support.

The latest phase of the Government’s Better Health – Every Mind Matters campaign targeted young people. It encouraged those aged 16 to 34 to ‘lift someone out of loneliness’ by carrying out small acts of kindness such as starting a conversation or inviting someone out for a tea or coffee.

Minister for Loneliness, Stuart Andrew said:

As these findings make clear, loneliness can affect anyone at any time. While freshers’ week is an exciting time for many, it can often be a daunting prospect for students. Moving away from home and away from friends and family can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation, especially while trying to manage coursework, make new friends and often navigate a new city.

There are small things everyone can do to help alleviate loneliness and open up the conversation. This includes reaching out to those that might be struggling and spending time volunteering, such as by offering a regular conversation to someone feeling isolated.

We want everyone to feel comfortable talking about loneliness and to help them find the right advice and support whenever they need it.

The findings revealed that eight in ten (82%) said they had supported or would support a friend feeling lonely, most often by just starting a conversation and offering reassurance, showing that the issue is far more normal than many perceive.

When it comes to tackling the issue, research also found that joining a society or club was the most helpful intervention, with nearly half (42%) of those who did this as a result of feeling lonely saying it was the most helpful action they took.

Research also found that the experience of loneliness at university differs for female students and disabled students, with more than half (58%) of female students saying they don’t feel comfortable getting help for loneliness compared to nearly half (48%) of male students. Similarly, 61% of disabled students say they wouldn’t feel comfortable getting help for loneliness, compared to 51% non-disabled students.

Findings differ for those who identify as LGB+, with almost half (47%) saying they felt isolated from their peers compared to a third (34%) of heterosexual students. While nearly half (48%) of heterosexual students were concerned about feeling lonely before starting their course, the figure jumps to 62% for LGB+ students.

Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education Robert Halfon said:

Starting university is an exciting time for many young people but the new environment and expectations can be challenging.

As this research shows, meeting new people and making friends is a top concern for students starting university, but I hope that they can see that they are not alone in this. Not only is this a common feeling for people at any age, but their fellow students are supportive and understanding.

We have asked the Office for Students to allocate £15 million on a range of mental health support, including for students’ transition to university. If students are struggling, I would encourage them to visit Student Space, which has already supported over 450,000 students with free resources and support on mental health and issues like loneliness.

Lauryn Davey, Medical Student, Youth Ambassador at Sporting Wellness said:

Starting university can be such a big step, as many of us are surrounded by new people in new environments. It’s so important to talk about loneliness with those around you and to recognise those feelings as completely normal. For me, joining a sports club was so helpful for my mental wellbeing, physical health and it helped me meet some of my closest friends.

Jenny Smith, Policy Manager at Student Minds, the UK’s student mental health charity, said:

This evidence shows that while loneliness is a common concern in our university communities, there’s a lot of sympathy and understanding among students.

Anybody struggling can look at these figures and know what they’re going through isn’t unusual or uncommon. Of course, this doesn’t mean that any student should have to suffer in silence.

Loneliness can be detrimental to mental wellbeing and university experience, so it’s crucial that students are empowered to address loneliness and form connections.

We’re pleased to see the government is raising this issue, and want people to know that help is available. Student Space is here to help you with the uncertainties of student life with a range of resources available to support students dealing with loneliness and worries about making friends.

Mark Rowland, Chief Executive at Mental Health Foundation, said:

We know that some groups of people, including young people aged 16-24, are more at risk of loneliness so it’s important that we do more to understand their experiences and provide the right support.

An important step is to address stigma about who experiences loneliness so that young people don’t feel ashamed about how they feel. Being able to have open conversations is vital but the stigma of loneliness can make it hard to talk about, as we worry about being judged or feeling like a burden.

Starting college or university is an exciting but nerve-wracking time so we encourage new students to access our Behind the Books resources for expert tips and advice. We welcome any government support for student wellbeing that helps prevent poor mental health.

Since launching the world’s first government strategy on loneliness, the Government and its partners have invested over £80 million in tackling loneliness. This includes up to £30 million allocated via the Know Your Neighbourhood Fund’ creating volunteering opportunities and helping reduce loneliness in 27 disadvantaged areas.

Practical tips for students dealing with feelings of loneliness include:

  1. Spend time helping other people, such as volunteering with student groups or by offering a regular conversation to someone feeling isolated
  2. Keep in touch with friends and family over the phone
  3. Join a club or society at university to connect with others who have similar interests
  4. Be open to everyone, as university is a great place to meet people from all different backgrounds
  5. Get in touch with the university’s student services about the welfare and support it can provide

More information and support can be found on the Better Health website.


  • Read the full results of the YouGov survey.
  • The YouGov survey was completed by 1,048 students in total, with 973 completing in its entirety.
  • The world’s first government strategy on loneliness was launched in October 2018 in response to the Jo Cox Commision on Loneliness. It set out a clear vision for this country to be a place where we can all have strong social relationships.
  • Since 2018, the Government and its partners have invested over £80 million in tackling loneliness. This includes:
    • More than £34 million in reducing loneliness in response to COVID-19 as part of the £750 million voluntary and community sector funding package;
    • £4 million through the Local Connections Fund, where we awarded almost 1,700 microgrants to charities and community groups throughout England that help people to connect through the things that matter to them;
    • £5 million for Tackling Loneliness through transport projects;
    • And up to £30 million from the ‘Know Your Neighbourhood Fund’, creating volunteering opportunities and helping reduce loneliness in 27 disadvantaged areas. This includes over 20 projects with a focus on LGB+ communities.
  • Every year since 2019, the Government has run a public communications campaign to continue the national conversation around loneliness. At the beginning of 2023, the Government’s ‘Lift Someone Out of Loneliness’ campaign reached millions of people to raise awareness about loneliness and provide advice on what people can do to help themselves and others if they are feeling lonely.
  • During Loneliness Awareness Week 2023, we also published research which explores the types of stigma and what works to tackle loneliness stigma. A full list of government commitments for the next two years can be found at Annex A of the fourth Annual Report, published in March 2023.
  • In March 2023, the Tackling Loneliness Evidence Group, which brings together experts and academics in the loneliness field, published an updated evidence gaps summary table. This was to ensure the resource remains relevant to policy makers and the sector, providing non-specialists with an informed, expert overview of the evidence gaps that still need to be filled.

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