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The Importance of Belonging - Finding Community in College

Megan Hayes | News Editor


Students at Eastern's club fair / @easternctstateuniv on Instagram

From the get-go, we’ve always known that humans are social creatures. The desire to belong is a crucial part of the human condition, yet it is so often overlooked, especially with college students. Days have the possibility of being lonely when swamped with education, internships, personal stressors, and more. How exactly does how much time we spend with others reflect directly onto us? What kind of legitimate toll does this take both on our physical and mental health? When do we take a break? Through studies and taking a look at our psychological and biological nature, we can explore these variables and learn how to resolve this element of disconnection.


Mental health is a hot topic on college campuses, with suicide rates rising to be one of the leading causes of death for college students. According to a 2022 study by the American College Health Association, 77% of undergraduate students reported experiencing “moderate to serious psychological distress”. A majority of college students “meet criteria for at least one mental health problem”, according to a Health Minds survey by the National Education Association. The issue of mental health still goes overlooked, often not by educators or the campus itself, but by students. Many campuses have resources available, like Eastern’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), but sometimes the problem is not a lack of counseling – but more of a matter of not feeling like one is worthy of taking up space or fitting in. Having deep social and emotional connections with others or a group is directly linked to our evolutionary need for physical safety and well being, and continues to be a fundamental element of human survival (Boyd & Richerson et al, 2009). This is an especially prevalent issue within adolescence and young adulthood, as belonging and social connections directly affects the social and emotional development of children into adults – a particularly vulnerable time in which needs most definitely have to be met. Our evolutionary history urges us as humans to seek our “safety, social connection, and belonging”, which in the long run promotes both health and survival (Slavich et al, 2020). When one feels alone, it can dock a feeling of meaning or purpose.


Looking at studies which measure the effects of fitting into a community, especially after the solitude that the COVID-19 pandemic brought, we can see some ways in which we can tackle feeling alone. Feeling alone without any deep connection, or sparse connection, can cause an uptick in the feeling of social anxiety, inner criticism, lack of purpose as well as motivation, intrusive thoughts, and lowering of immune responses due to social deprivation (Cooks-Campbell, 2023). When trying to improve our social connection is to establish connections, within clubs, communities, classes, study groups and more. Having simple interactions and feeling supported by those around you can greatly reduce the stress of feeling like one does not fit in. Support can get us through tough times, and fostering connections with those who are like-minded with similar goals can help us to continue on – as well as seeking support from health professionals and family (CDC). As well as receiving support, giving support can heighten our self esteem, lessen self criticism, and can make a huge impact in someone else’s life (Mental Health Foundation). Deepening and strengthening the emotional connections we have with others can also help to reduce stress, as closer resources and mutual enjoyment of connection can foster friendships. Ensuring that these friendships are healthy is also crucial to mental health, as giving time to ourselves as well as having boundaries with others is very important (CDC). Lastly, talking to health care providers about concerns relating to both mental and physical health is extremely important – and for Eastern students, taking advantage of services like CAPS and Health Services is extremely beneficial.


Resources on campus:


Counseling and Psychological Services

182 High Street, Willimantic CT 06226

Mon-Fri 8:30am-4:30pm - (860) 465-0181


After Hours Crisis Support

(860) 465-0181


Office of Health Services

185 Birch Street, Willimantic CT 06226

Mon-Fri 8am-4:30pm (closed 1-2pm) - (860) 465-5263


Intercultural Center

Arthur L. Johnson Unity Wing, Room 114

Mon-Fri 9am-5pm - (860) 465-5749


Pride Center

Arthur L. Johnson Unity Wing, Room 108G

Mon-Fri 9am-5pm - (860) 465-0015


Women’s Center

Arthur L. Johnson Unity Wing, Room 116

Mon-Fri 8am-4pm - (860) 465-4313


Looking to get involved in clubs? Check out a full list on www.easternct.edu/clubs/



References:

Allen, Kelly-Ann, et al. “Belonging: A Review of Conceptual Issues, an Integrative Framework, and Directions for Future Research.” Australian Journal of Psychology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 10 Mar. 2021, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8095671/#:~:text=Just%20as%20harbouring%20a%20healthy,health%20problems%2C%20and%20reduced%20longevity.

Bryant, Jessica, and Lyss Welding. “College Student Mental Health Statistics: Bestcolleges.” BestColleges.Com, www.bestcolleges.com/research/college-student-mental-health-statistics/#:~:text=References-,How%20Many%20College%20Students%20Experience%20Mental%20Health%20Conditions%3F,moderate%20to%20serious%20psychological%20distress. Accessed 21 Sept. 2023.

Cooks-Campbell, Allaya. “‘I Feel like I Don't Belong’: How to Stop Feeling like an Outsider.” BetterUp, www.betterup.com/blog/i-feel-like-i-dont-belong#:~:text=Feeling%20alone%20can%20be%20a,beyond%20your%20current%20emotional%20state. Accessed 21 Sept. 2023.

Epps, Tyler. “7 Benefits of Joining a Club in College: BestColleges.” BestColleges.Com, 12 Sept. 2022, www.bestcolleges.com/blog/benefits-joining-club-college/#:~:text=By%20joining%20a%20club%2C%20you,to%20see%20in%20job%20candidates.

Flannery, Mary Ellen. “The Mental Health Crisis on College Campuses.” NEA, www.nea.org/nea-today/all-news-articles/mental-health-crisis-college-campuses#:~:text=The%20majority%20of%20college%20students%20(more%20than%2060%20percent)%20meet,survey%2C%20published%20earlier%20this%20month. Accessed 21 Sept. 2023.

“Kindness Matters Guide.” Mental Health Foundation, www.mentalhealth.org.uk/explore-mental-health/kindness/kindness-matters-guide. Accessed 21 Sept. 2023.

L. Eva, Amy. “How Colleges Today Are Supporting Student Mental Health.” Greater Good, greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_colleges_today_are_supporting_student_mental_health#:~:text=Colleges%20provide%20orientation%20sessions%20on,%2Dto%2Dface%20orientation%20sessions. Accessed 21 Sept. 2023.

“Students’ Sense of Belonging Matters: Evidence from Three Studies.” Teaching & Learning Lab - MIT, tll.mit.edu/sense-of-belonging-matters/. Accessed 21 Sept. 2023.

“What You Can Do to Improve Social Connectedness.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 Mar. 2023, www.cdc.gov/emotional-wellbeing/social-connectedness/ways-to-improve.htm#:~:text=Spend%20more%20quality%20time%20with,Express%20gratitude%20to%20others.


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