Home Features TMU Students Struggling to Make Connections Amid Loneliness Epidemic

TMU Students Struggling to Make Connections Amid Loneliness Epidemic

“Being lonely is like you're coming out with your hands open, but there's nothing there.”

A person in blue jeans and grey sweater sitting on their floor against a bed with their legs crossed whilst scrolling through their computer.
A person sitting on the floor whilst scrolling on their computer. (Photo courtesy @Andrew Neel/Pexels)

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When 23-year-old Leah Tait attended TMU in 2018, she envisioned an exciting social life. But she soon realized that the reality differed dramatically from her expectations. 

Despite living closer to campus at an off-campus housing space HOEM on Jarvis, Tait said it felt difficult to form new connections. “Even though I tried to put myself out there, it never seemed to work.”

This experience prompted her to defer her studies at TMU, citing overwhelming stress and profound loneliness as significant factors. Currently residing in downtown Toronto, she is actively prioritizing her mental well-being while also working at a restaurant. 

Tait is one of many TMU students who feel lonely. Students interviewed by OTR said that commuting, a lack of resources on campus, trouble fitting in, mental health issues, the COVID-19 pandemic and demanding schedules are among the factors leading to their loneliness. 

According to the 2023 Vital Signs Report released by the Toronto Foundation, Torontonians are among the loneliest Canadians. “About 44 per cent of those aged 18 to 24 reported feeling lonely at least three days a week, as did 52 per cent of adult students,” the report states.   

Dr. Diana Brecher, clinical psychologist and director at Thrive TMU, said being lonely and being alone are not the same thing. “Being lonely is like you’re coming out with your hands open, but there’s nothing there.” 

An issue connecting students to resources on campus 

Yuning Sun, a fifth-year public health student at TMU, struggled to establish relationships after transferring from the University of Toronto’s (UofT) Mississauga campus in 2019. He said being a transfer student, as well as someone who is not particularly social, presented additional hurdles.  

Although Sun’s current focus is on his graduation and finding a job, there have been certain moments, especially when he’s bored or lonely, where he has found it disheartening to see groups of friends. His two-hour commute from Scarborough further impacts his ability to be on campus. 

Sun also said he feels there isn’t enough communication about campus events. “Finding people who have common interests outside of class is pretty difficult,” he said. “Especially when you’re not aware of social events on campus.” 

Students have expressed similar struggles with developing friendships. A popular TMU Reddit thread with 345 comments and 129 upvotes, titled “Make Friends Here,” features TMU students sharing their age, gender and hobbies to establish new connections. 

Brecher said that while resources and events are available on campus, connecting students to them is a challenge for student programmers. “It’s a marketing issue,” she said. “How do you reach students? Is it flyers? Instagram? Posters?” 

She also said there is a lot of creative energy being put into reaching students. “Because what worked two years ago might not be applicable today,” she said. 

Intersecting challenges for students living by themselves and the pandemic’s impact 

Samin Yaser, a third-year industrial engineering student at TMU, moved to Toronto from Bangladesh in 2021. Yaser, who was used to living with his family in a close-knit community, said he experienced a significant culture shock after his move. “I would try to talk to people, but I felt like they would keep to themselves,” he said.

As an international student, Yaser also tackled the challenge of being independent for the first time. “There were a lot of things I needed to do by myself,” he said. While he had no reservations about taking on those responsibilities, he felt a great deal of pressure. 

The pandemic has also impacted the way our community is connecting. According to the Vital Signs Report, there has been a decline in friends and family networks since the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Asad Salman, a third-year business management student at TMU said he feels the pandemic has made individuals more comfortable in their shells, which has resulted in them not wanting to be vulnerable or put themselves out there.

Brecher said that students who attended high school online during the pandemic missed out on crucial socialization opportunities. “It’s disruptive,” she said. 

She also noted that an undergraduate degree is more than just taking classes; it is also about embracing the university lifestyle. “The courses were there, they were important,” she said. “But, there was so much else — the socializing, the clubs and the opportunities to get involved in things.” 

Students are attempting to foster connections

In their pursuit of a sense of belonging, students are striving to foster meaningful relationships. 

When Salman moved to Toronto after a year of online learning, he continued to participate in student groups and international clubs. “For the most part, all of my friends came from extracurriculars,” he said. 

He also noted that his “experience [with making friends] has been good. But that is from being proactive.”

Khoi Nguyen, a first-year social work student, recalled his high school setting as highly competitive and academically motivated. That, along with attending high school online led to an internal conflict over how he should balance academics and social activities. 

“I spent a lot of time studying in high school—just work,” he said. “I want to create my own personal experiences and reduce the pressure off of myself.”

Nguyen also attends campus events he finds online to connect with peers. “I once went to a pub night and met new people,” he said. Although he finds it daunting to put himself out there, he also appreciates doing this for himself. 

Brecher shared how ThriveTMU can support students’ well-being journey. “The series includes learning and thriving strategies that are designed to help you love being a student,” she said.  

She also co-created the Thriving in Action online resource with Dr. Deena Kara Shaffer as well as an online workbook “Cultivate Your Happiness,” which has different exercises for every week of term for the academic year.

Brecher also encouraged students to engage in various activities to enhance their well-being. “Join a yoga class at the RAC, join a club, join an interest group, it doesn’t matter. Volunteer for something. Show up.”

Fourth-year journalism student seeking a platform to inspire conversations. Reporter, OTR, winter 2024.

My name is Soukita Morgan, I am a fourth-year journalism student from Toronto Metropolitan University. As I pursue my Journalism degree, I have found an interest in fashion and philosophy. Along with this, I have written a couple of pieces for Stylecircle and Youthquaker. I have been trained in copy-editing, copywriting, and fact-checking. My journey here at TMU has helped me develop various amount of skills and helped me delve into my love for writing. In this final semester, I am completing a Masthead course where I will be extensively prepared for reporting and live broadcasting.

This article may have been created with the use of AI software such as Google Docs, Grammarly, and/or Otter.ai for transcription.

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