Social media induces loneliness for students away from home

Est. Reading Time: 3 minutes

If you are an international student who uses social media frequently, and find it hard to put down your phone, it’s time to start prioritizing your social and mental health

By Nada Mahmoud, Contributor

Every day, international students leave their homes and families behind to earn a powerful education abroad and secure a future with greater opportunities. Some might say that trying to make new friends is key to coping with feelings of loneliness. But, being in a new environment with different socio-cultural norms and barriers like language makes it harder to put yourself out there.

The International student population has been rapidly growing in Canada over the past decade, contributing about 22 billion dollars to the Canadian economy.

Universities put in a lot of effort to attract international students, who tend to pay more than triple the tuition of domestic students. However, efforts to support them mentally and socially upon arrival are limited.

When the COVID-19 pandemic came along, feelings of loneliness increased. Many were unable to go back home to their families and the lack of community resulted in increased reliance on social media. According to research, poorly adjusted international students reported the highest use of social media before and after the pandemic. Social media was the only way for students to satisfy their need for social interaction without feeling uncomfortable or exposed.

A study was conducted on university students which considered other factors such as moving into residence, to a new community. With McMaster’s very large international and out-of-province student population, many students end up being away from home in a new environment with new people which can be difficult.

On one hand, some students report low levels of loneliness as they remain focused on schoolwork and only use social media as a method of communication to stay in contact with friends and family. 

Yet, most students show high levels of loneliness because they yearned to reinvent themselves online when starting a new phase of their life. The desire to edit themselves caused loneliness. It became challenging to maintain the standards they set, hindering their ability to communicate with other students offline.

Thus, students over-rely on social media, causing severe loneliness and social anxiety. Excessive social media use leads to an increase in cases of loneliness and corresponding mental illnesses which is why researchers continue to try and pinpoint the best way to use social media to take advantage of its benefits while staying shielded from the harm it causes. 

Today, mental health research indicates that loneliness is more prominent than ever, which is particularly worrying since the majority of internet and social media users are young adults.

People who use social media the most, especially those who depend on it, suffer at the highest rate. We can see this through the way they use social media which reflects on how it impacts their mental health.

For example, if an international student uses social media to connect with people, they know offline such as family and friends back home, the impact is minor. But for students who use social media as a primary source of communication with others, the impacts are serious. As a result, when they stop or simply log off, all sense of connection vanishes.

Social media usage needs to be managed on a personal level since everyone is different; everyone's brain functions differently and this is especially true for teenagers. Young adults are more vulnerable to developing feelings of loneliness and hurt caused by over-usage. Therefore, trying to reduce social media use and focusing on offline social life is essential for students to keep their mental health a priority.

While resources are offered, current efforts to support international students are severely lacking. As was proven when the pandemic hit students across Canada found it hard to make appointments with their university counsellors due to the high number of students trying to get support. Universities and governments must work to prioritize the social and mental health of international students and provide more holistic support to meet their needs.

Universities can focus on creating spaces for students from similar backgrounds to connect and come together to feel more at home while governments need to focus on making international students feel valued.


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