(Australian Associated Press)
When Prateeti Sabhlok began studying at university, she yearned to form friendships with the people around her on campus.
The size of her Bachelor of Arts cohort proved a hurdle to her hopes, as she rarely shared a class with the same faces for more than a semester.
“It can be difficult to make friends in classes, and you really have to put yourself out there and do extracurricular things,” the now 23-year-old told AAP.
Ms Sabhlok said she began feeling lonely and it was a hit to her self-esteem, with posts on social media leaving her convinced her existing friends couldn’t relate to her experience.
“It kind of felt like I was the only one feeling this way,” she said.
New research shows that’s far from the case, with more than half (57 per cent) of young Australians admitting to feeling lonely sometimes or always.
A quarter felt lonely as often as three or more times a week, according to the survey of 1500 Victorians aged between 12 and 25.
The research, prepared by VicHealth and the Swinburne University of Technology, shows almost half (47 per cent) of young people feel like they sometimes or always have no one to turn to.
Lonelier young people were also 18 per cent more likely to experience depression and 12 per cent more likely to deal with social anxiety.
The findings are alarming, according to the Director of Swinburne’s Social Health and Wellbeing Laboratory Michelle Lim.
Dr Lim – who is also the scientific chair of the Australian Coalition to End Loneliness – said it’s normal for people to feel lonely, but not at these levels.
“These results highlighted a crucial need to find effective ways in which young people can meaningfully connect with their peers, friends, and their community,” she said.
Ms Sabhlok is grateful her feeling of loneliness never developed into a mental health issue.
She was able to feel more connected to others through sport as she joined a cheerleading squad, and did swimming and pom dancing.
“When you join a sport, you will see the same people every week, for a whole year and you will be doing competitions together, so you make a bond naturally,” she said.
The recent graduate, who is now a project officer, also made a new year’s resolution at one stage to always say yes to social events regardless of any reservations she held about them.
“That really actually helped a lot.”
Years after her early days at university, she learnt that some of her friends had dealt with similar feelings to her.
She hopes the latest research will make young Australians feeling lonely similarly realise there are others in the same boat, and give them the confidence to reach out.
“Chances are people you know are feeling the same way and just aren’t confident enough to voice it.”
Dr Lim said along with finding people with similar interests to them – such as sport or a music group – adults can make friends by volunteering for causes they’re passionate about.
But being socially connected doesn’t always require new friends.
“You could start by deepening the relationships with people you already know,” she said.