Coping with loneliness at University: A qualitative interview study with students in the UK

Leaving home to attend University constitutes a transition that is often characterized by an increased risk of loneliness, a psychological state that predicts poor mental health outcomes. Informed by a comprehensive conceptual framework of coping with stress, this study sought to examine the coping strategies young adults deploy to manage experiences of loneliness whilst studying at University. A qualitative, cross-sectional study was designed. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 15 University students who had moved away from home to study, and who self-identified experiencing loneliness. We used directed qualitative content analysis to analyse the data both between and within participants. The results demonstrate that participants used a variety of coping strategies to manage the distressing experience of loneliness. Accommodation, mainly in the form of distraction, support-seeking, social isolation, self-reliance, and problem-solving behaviours were the most prevalent coping strategies mentioned. Coping reflecting helplessness, escape, submission, and more rarely, opposition, were also found, albeit less often. Students showed evidence of a wide-ranging coping repertoire, with the deployment of specific coping strategies presenting as highly selective and contextual. Strategies for coping with loneliness take into account constraints and opportunities in the environment, the availability and appropriateness of social resources, as well as individual resources and needs.