On Loneliness, the Pandemic and College Life

A person sits on a couch on a laptop. Photo is taken from behind a doorframe.

(Photo: Martin Dee)

By Kenna Caprio

Part of the college experience is interaction — with peers, professors and professionals. But attending school can be lonely, even without a global pandemic forcing people to stay apart.

In the fall semester, the offices of the dean of students on the Metropolitan and Florham campuses saw an uptick in the number of “student concern” reports — a faculty or staff member or a student can submit the form, which alerts the appropriate Dean of Students office that someone needs help. Reports are submitted out of an abundance of care and caution.

“Care cases ranged from the COVID-19-related, with a student or family member contracting the virus, to technological issues, with some students not having access to the internet or to a computer. Some others concerned mental-health struggles or students not showing up to class or turning work in on time,” says Vidal Lopez, the Metropolitan Campus dean of students.

Students who feel disconnected, lonely or scared have lots of resources available through the University to stay healthy, happy and engaged.

“We are feeling especially lonely in this pandemic because we are staying home and limiting in-person interactions. Human beings are hard-wired to be with one another,” says Robin Williamson, the Florham Campus dean of students. “Physical touch and social interactions are extremely important for human development and good mental health. During the pandemic, we’re limiting or even losing those opportunities.” 

The first step, Williamson says, is for anyone suffering from loneliness to admit they are sad, overwhelmed, stressed or anxious. “Everyone feels lonely, and everyone needs help.”

Try to dwell in the positive, she suggests. “Remember, this pandemic will end. We may not know when, but this will pass.” But if it all still seems like too much, seek support. Call a loved one, a friend or a mental-health counselor. Sometimes loneliness or negative emotions require professional intervention and expertise. That’s also normal.

The main thing, says Lopez, is that “as a community we continue to communicate with and to care for our students, connecting them with the appropriate University resources.”

It’s also about investing time in joy, which can be hard to come by in times of crisis.

“Whether it’s listening to a favorite song, or enjoying a cup of hot cocoa, finding an outlet that makes you happy is important,” says Williamson. “Mask up, mitten up and go outside. Go for a walk, play a favorite winter sport or stay inside for yoga. Just stay six feet apart and wear a mask over your mouth and nose. Or get involved in community service. Many community organizations have adopted health-and-safety guidelines for volunteers.”

Lopez adds that virtual programming and events can also make students feel more connected to one another. Both campuses plan to offer a mix of virtual and limited in-person activities during the spring semester.

“In my role and in my office, we strive to provide a certain level of wraparound care — advocacy, support and resources to help students through any situation, as well as to cheer them on as they achieve their goals,” says Williamson.

Virtual services are provided at the Metropolitan Campus. Call 201-692-2174 or contact David Mednick, codirector and psychological counselor at mednick@fdu.edu; Alice Mills, codirector and psychological counselor at mills@fdu.edu; or Kathy Azzaro, substance abuse educator and psychological counselor at azzaro@fdu.edu.

Counselors at the Florham Campus are available remotely for tele-mental health services by appointment. Email Stephanie Koempel, director, at skoempel@fdu.edu to schedule a counseling session. Or call 973-443-8504 to make a first appointment.