Hanze tackles loneliness among students

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Talking about loneliness is not that easy. Your time as a student is supposed to be the best time of your life, isn’t it? Jisca Kuiper and Willem Vos show that this is not always the case. The lecturer-researchers worked with students to investigate loneliness among students. Willem Vos: 'It's always been an issue, even before corona.'

Cautious start

'In 2019, Jisca Kuiper and I carefully started asking our students questions about loneliness,' says Willem Vos, researcher at EAST, Loneliness Approach for Students. 'We were interested in the problem and wanted to link this to research. The aim is to develop an approach for students that allows us to discuss and reduce loneliness, so that students feel better and study delay and dropout decrease. It felt counterintuitive, because you don't easily link loneliness and students.' 


The researchers were setting up a research design from the Rehabilitation research group when corona broke out. As a result, the research gained momentum. The requested grant was awarded and the researchers started in 2020. 'Five students who recognised the problem wanted to participate in a focus group on loneliness. As it turned out, they all suffered from it. Either had or still were. It turned out to be a bigger issue than we initially thought.'
A year later, research by the Trimbos Institute, the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) and the GGD GHOR among almost 30,000 students showed that just under 80 percent of them feel somewhat or severely lonely (Dopmeijer et al., 2021).
It's a fundamental problem. It has always been an issue, even before corona. At most, corona was a reinforcement of what was already present,' says Willem Vos.

Breaking the taboo

The researchers developed an intervention that breaks the taboo on loneliness among students. With the focus group, they developed a prototype. 'This resulted in a training course that we offered to colleagues at the Hanze. Twenty colleagues signed up. They started recruiting students within their school or academy. We have collected sufficient data, also through theses and sub-studies conducted by students. In addition, we have developed a curriculum to make loneliness a topic of discussion in the classroom in an accessible way.'

The programme

The curriculum can be found on our website eenzaamheidstudenten.nl. It is not only accessible to lecturers of Hanze University of Applied Sciences, but it is available to everyone free of charge. 'It's a two-hour lesson that you should ideally give to first-year students in a mentor class, for example after the first 100 days, when they've found their feet a bit. The manual for the lesson also contains a light version of one hour and the programme can also be easily converted to an online version.

Not a lonely problem

The students who participated in EAST indicated that the conversations gave them a better grip on their (emotional) lives. 'They liked being able to talk openly with a teacher about something as intimate as feelings of loneliness. We already knew from the literature that loneliness is not a lonely problem. It does not stand alone and is actually always related to other problems such as sadness or fears. Or with a reduced motivation for school. It was surprising that no one in our group had study problems, had a delay or dropped courses. In fact, going to school was a pleasant distraction. Even in corona time, you still had a certain contact. Students we included in our research didn't get lower grades because of their feelings of loneliness.'

Valuable signal

Willem sees expressing feelings of loneliness as part of the solution. 'The feeling of loneliness is a valuable signal that you want more contact or a greater connection with other people. At the same time, we see that it should not last too long. The tipping point is about a year. If you feel lost and disconnected from the world around you for a year, you run the risk of chronic symptoms such as high blood pressure and an increased risk of diabetes, as well as anxiety and mood disorders and substance use. So there's a momentum where you have to do something with those signals.'

Courageous and powerful

'We often have the idea that we are seen as weak if we are vulnerable and open, but the opposite is true. Showing vulnerability is seen as something brave and powerful. At the same time, it is an implicit invitation to others to share their story. Let's not make a fuss about the fact that we all have a hard time from time to time.'

More information about loneliness among students (EAST - Eenzaamheids­Aanpak STudenten

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