Mental Health Awareness Week: A student’s advice on coping with loneliness

This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is all about loneliness. Postgraduate study can be a lonely place for a range of reasons from returning to education after a break, to living alone, to moving to a new country. We spoke to one of our current students about their experience.
Mental Health Awareness Week 2022

Tell us a little bit about your experience of loneliness

I'm an MSc student from South Korea and I came to LSHTM after experiencing burnout as a physician, like many of my LSHTM friends. I temporarily retired from my clinical work, looking for ways to improve health services at the systems level. After experiencing health issues in 2020 during the pandemic, I deferred admission for one year, took some rest, and came to study at LSHTM in 2021. Although I came with my husband to study together, I could not go to classes for the first half of Term 1 due to COVID-19 restrictions and safety guidance in place at LSHTM. Due to my previous illness and responsibility for my family, I also made the decision to study remotely for the first half of Term 2.  

Since I don't live near LSHTM and wasn’t attending in-person classes, I missed opportunities to get along with friends and felt isolated during the first two weeks of Term 2. The language and virtual barrier also made it difficult to express myself to others.  Most of the discussions in Term 1 classes were focused on either the European or African context and while studying virtually, I found it difficult to share my experience or learn from others in the Asian context. Indeed, I struggled at first to find someone who shares similar interests in improving public health systems in Asia or with a similar cultural background. 

What helped you to overcome feelings of loneliness? 

Firstly, I went to in-person classes in Term 2 despite my fear of COVID-19 and previous health issues. Meeting classmates and virtual friends in person and working together with them really helped me to overcome loneliness and to catch up academically!

Secondly, I founded a new society at LSHTM, the ‘Together with Asia Network’, where people from Asia or any other region of the world can join to network and connect with fellow students and alumni too. Finding friends who felt the same way I did and forming the network with amazing board members brought me a great sense of belonging to LSHTM.  I received help and appreciation from the LSHTM Study Team during the process too. Currently, there are about 80 people in the Network, including full-time and part-time students as well as alumni.

Finally, to increase resilience, I resorted to nature and dogs. Breathing in fresh air and having a walk with my dogs in the many green spaces that London has to offer was the best remedy, especially with good friends who love my dogs too! 

Please share any other advice you have to help students who are feeling lonely 

You are not alone, since I also was not alone. When looking around, there were so many friends who felt the same way I did. When I stopped thinking too much about my own feelings, I could help myself as well as others. Together we can overcome feelings of loneliness.  

Find ways to make yourself happy and busy other than the coursework. Invite friends over, and engage in every occasion where you can meet people and make friends. Some advice for someone with a family like me - it is totally sensible that you may feel isolated and lonely even though you are married and have a family along with you in London. It is OK to sometimes step outside of family responsibilities and enjoy your time as a student here, at this prestigious institution. Having a work-family balance is not easy, but you will be able to do it! Don't forget there are many friends who are in and have been in your shoes.  

If you feel lonely, you are not alone