We’re getting lonelier.
Surprisingly, one out of three people between the ages of 25 and 35 feel lonely outside academia. When asked, they answered that they have felt lonely most of the time in the last week (1). In academia, this problem is much bigger. 67% of PhD students suffer from loneliness and often feel very isolated. They admitted that the feeling of isolation is having an impact on their current performance or has had an impact on their performance. Academics feel that the lack of support is one of the biggest contributing factors for their mental distress, isolation and loneliness.
A large part of PhD lifestyle involves long hours of reading, data analysis, working weekends which all contributes to this feeling of isolation. Studies show that chronic loneliness has a significantly negative impact on both physical and mental health (1). Lonely people are much more likely to suffer from increased blood pressure and elevated cortisol levels. They are more likely to be anxious and suffer from a host of other mental health issues. The bad news is that the loneliness is contagious. The spread of loneliness is disproportionally stronger than the one of social connections. We, as a society, are becoming more and more disenfranchised with each other and our social network. So what is the solution?
There are many ways to get to know other people – through workplaces, societies, events and neighbourhoods. Joining the gym or a club is also a way to reach to people with common interests and goals. But when your interests are a bit different than the standards set by culture, finding people with the same passion in common can be a bit more challenging.
Since I moved to Nottingham, I have always found it hard to engage with people in my own bubble (work colleagues, gym friends of friends). I have loads of acquaintances but very few friends. So, I thought that social media could be a useful tool to find the kind of communities I would like to engage in.
This is how I met Ewelina – A scientist in Nottingham with a lot in common outside of my usual social and professional circle. We are both international students at the same university but never met each other in person until recently. Science communication through social media and the #strongertogether outreach brought us together via Instagram. We found that we have a lot of common interests. We are both scientists with a passion for science communication, healthy living and blogging amongst other things. Typically, these interests are outside the conventional way of socialising.
#StrongerTogether brought us together
There has recently been controversy about social media as a mean of science communication specifically for a female scientist. Many may argue that interactions via apps and messages negatively impacts the interpersonal skills. Especially the younger generations are being exposed to the social media from an early age and distract them from spending time with other people in real life. Nevertheless, we argue that social media, if used correctly, may have an enormously positive effect on your wellbeing. Yes, we met via Instagram but we arranged a meeting in a café a week after that and we had a good time.
To summarise: A collaboration between me and Evelina is a pure example of a successful way to reach out to people who are like you. We want to achieve mutual goals and make the difference in spreading the scientific content beyond that will help burden scientists, male and female alike. We can achieve more together than apart. The female scientists are paving the way for how science is communicated and the people are starting to pay attention. The more women doing amazing scientific outreach projects, the better. In conclusion, reaching out to like-minded individuals on social media is a very effective way for PhDs (and non-academics) to reduce loneliness and isolation in society.
We would not be able to achieve as good outcomes if we have been doing it separately.
This is a joint post with Ewelina Kaminska. You can find Ewelina on Instagram @motivelina_com and Twitter @motivelima and she blogs at motivelina.com
1) Griffiths, H.: Social Isolation and Loneliness in the UK – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3642375/