Last August, the Laurie Hamre Center for Health & Wellness (Health and Wellness Center) released a video entitled “The Voices of Loneliness,” featuring Macalester’s campus narrated with student experiences of loneliness. The video ends with the statement that “85% of Macalester students have felt very lonely in the past 12 months.” This statistic was determined through the National College Health Assessment (NCHA) survey that the Health and Wellness Center sends out bi-annually to assess the state of mental health at Macalester.
The production of “The Voices of Loneliness” video was spearheaded by Health Promotion staff member, Carina Ramorino ’21, who felt a personal connection to the topic and wanted to reach other students at Macalester who may be experiencing loneliness as well.
“You want people to know that you aren’t alone, even though you may feel that you are,” Ramorino said. “Other people are going about feeling the same situations of not belonging or [feeling like] they don’t have anyone on campus, or [that] they’re going through situations that other people aren’t going through. There’s just the intent to tell people that that’s not true.”
In order to get this message across, the Health & Wellness Center decided to create a public video shared on Youtube.
“We felt like we always do things in the Mac Daily or workshops and we wanted to do something a little bit differently,” Ramorino explained. “So we thought a video portraying and hearing people talking about their loneliness may resonate with students more.”
As of March 6th, the video has 322 views, which serves as a motivating sign of the video’s impact for Ramorino.
“That means a lot,” she said. “That means people are watching it and resonating with it. We’ve actually heard people, like our friend groups or friends of friends, or just people walking by talking about the loneliness video.”
According to the NCHA survey, the number of students feeling very lonely at Macalester has increased from 78.3 percent in 2017 to 85 percent in 2019.
The next numbers on loneliness at Macalester will be published in the spring of 2021 — the next time the Health & Wellness Center sends out the campus-wide community health survey.
In the meantime, the Health & Wellness Center is working on another video addressing the topic of loneliness, this time with a focus on the difference between loneliness and solitude. Brooke Offenhauser ’21, another student staff member at the Health Promotion Center, says that these two definitions often get confused. One of the goals of the new video is to differentiate between these two terms as well as share student experiences.
“We currently define loneliness as a typically negative state marked by isolation,” Offenhauser wrote in an email to The Mac Weekly. “People often feel that something is missing; it is also possible to be with people and still feel lonely. Solitude is the state of being alone without being lonely. This is often a positive and sufficient state of being with yourself. These both can look very different from person to person, which is why we want to do our current video project.”
Both of these videos fit within the broader scope of the Health and Wellness Center’s mental health initiatives aimed at building community and a sense of belonging on campus. One of the main goals of the loneliness videos is to raise awareness of the prevalence of loneliness on campus.
“We can’t tell you how you can feel less alone. But we can tell you that you’re not the only one,” Ramorino explained.
Another important aspect of struggling with loneliness is accepting these feelings as well as finding personal coping strategies.
“It’s not necessarily bad to feel lonely or be alone. In some cases it may be, but a lot of people do and it’s okay,” she said.
“[Loneliness] is so personal, some people might feel lonely and they need to go talk to their friends, some people might feel lonely and they need to go sit and read a book for a little bit,” Offenhauser added. “Everyone copes with it differently.”
In addition to the loneliness videos, the Health & Wellness Center offers a variety of mental health initiatives to help students cope with feelings of loneliness. As part of their Resilience, Self-Care and Thrive strategies, the center offers activities like aromatherapy, as well as Color Me Calm hours where students alleviate stress by coloring. Additionally, the Health and Wellness Center has several support groups for students to connect with others on mental health topics.
The second loneliness video is scheduled to come out this April.