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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Counseling Corner

This bi-weekly column addressing mental health issues on campus is written by a UHS Counseling Center graduate trainee.

“It’s so hard to meet people at UMass.”

“I’m a sophomore and I still feel like I don’t know anyone.”

“I come for class and then I go to work-I’m so busy.”

Over and over again, we hear students speaking of the isolation and loneliness they feel, and their frustration at finding it difficult to make connections or find a community on campus. As a graduate student myself, I know that these feelings aren’t confined to those who visit the UHS Counseling Center, but are common among many students at UMass Boston.

The fact that we don’t have residence halls or dorms makes it particularly hard to feel connected and many students also have other responsibilities that limit the time they can spend on campus.

That sense of isolation experienced by so many of us isn’t just a quality-of-life issue; it can be a health issue as well. Humans are social animals, and we have a basic need for inclusion in groups as well as close relationships with friends. Psychology Today reported in a 2003 issue that chronic feelings of loneliness lead to a much higher risk of depression and alcoholism, as well as an increase in stress hormones circulating throughout the body. Quality of sleep is lower, and a lonely person will experience more stress than a socially-connected person, even in the exact same circumstances. Socially-connected people also experience more protection from stress and negative health outcomes as a result of their social interactions.

In light of all this information, we should be working on building relationships for ourselves in the same way we work to ensure we have adequate nutrition and sleep. However, building more social connections can be very difficult, as it’s usually necessary to make repeated efforts at building relationships and setbacks can be discouraging.

Many people experience a great deal of anxiety in social situations, or simply have trouble approaching others to form social relationships. The UHS Counseling Center is available to all registered students for a free initial consultation in which next steps to assist you in improving these skills can be identified.

There are also a number of student groups and centers on campus, which can make it easier to socialize with other students who have similar interests. There are nine different Student Centers on campus, all located on the 3rd floor of the Campus Center. These include specific organizations focused on Black, Latino/a, Asian, and Queer students, as well as veterans, women, low-income students, and students with disabilities. A wellness center welcomes all students, and each center serves as a location where students may relax informally with one another as well as gather information or attend group meetings.

In addition to the flyers about groups and events on campus, you can explore the UMass Boston website to find out about specific student clubs and activities. Type “student groups” into the search box, and click on the top option. Click the “Organizations” heading and you’ll find searchable listings of all the recognized groups on campus, along with descriptions and contact information. Or search for the Office of Community Engagement and find out about volunteering and social activism opportunities. Finally, type “academic support” into the search box and find opportunities for individual or group tutoring sessions. Many professors also help students develop study groups within their courses or subject areas. If you’re looking to get in shape as well as meet new people, Beacon Fitness Center promotes a Fitness Buddies program in conjunction with the UHS health education and wellness program .

Feelings of loneliness and isolation can make us feel less, rather than more, willing to extend ourselves to make our own connections. And yet the only way for us to adjust those patterns is to make an effort to connect with others on campus. If you’ve been frustrated about the difficulty of meeting people, consider setting a goal of attending a particular number of events in the coming month or semester, and keep making the effort. Just as we all have to put work into keeping ourselves healthy by getting the sleep and nutrition we need, we all need to consider it a priority to meet our needs for connection with one another.

Did you find this article helpful? Are there mental health-related topics you’d like to learn more about in upcoming columns? We’d like to hear from you! Contact us at [email protected] with questions or comments.