#YouMatter: Alone versus Lonely

By Puteri An Nur

GOMBAK, 24 July 2021: With the COVID-19 pandemic that the world is currently faced with, issues related to mental health are being reported almost everyday making them no longer a taboo to be discussed.

The talk which was held recently on the theme “Alone vs Lonely” focused on factors which lead to loneliness, and how individuals, especially students, were able to overcome this feeling during the ongoing pandemic.

The speakers were Mrs. Nur Syuhada, an IIUM counsellor from the Counselling and Career Services Centre, Haffizah Aina, an IIUM graduate who is also a bipolar disorder survivor, and Madam Nurul Emilia, an IIUM’s matriculation lecturer.

Before discussing the factors which invoke the feeling of loneliness, Mrs. Syuhada gave a brief comparison on the definitions of ‘alone’ and ‘lonely’ to clear any misconception on what these words actually mean.

According to Mrs. Syuhada, ‘alone’ is defined as “the physical state of being alone without a companion and in a state of isolation” whereas ‘lonely’ is defined as “a psychological state where an individual will experience distress due to the lack of socialising, which is measured through the quality and quantity of socialising.”

According to Mrs. Syuhada, despite the nature of human beings having different personality traits such as introverts and extroverts, it is still important for those who consider themselves as introverts to socialise with others as the lack of socialising can be detrimental to an individual’s health.

She explained, “According to research, when an individual starts to isolate himself or herself for a long period of time, his or her physical wellbeing is similar to those who smoke and are obese.”

She also added that, the act of isolation may “affect the psychological state of an individual which may lead towards post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, addiction and other unpleasant psychological disorders.”

“The most common factor on why mental health issues are on a rise during the pandemic is because of the constant worrying and anxiousness that an individual has to face as a result of the never ending COVID-19 pandemic,” Mrs. Syuhada highlighted.

She further added that these feelings stem from several problems such as financial trouble, which will then lead to conflicts among family members, and the most common factors are domestic abuse in households, which has affected many families and marriages as well as online classes, which students are currently facing.

As a counsellor, she had shared several strategies which can be useful to individuals who are finding ways to overcome their issue of loneliness, which include staying calm by being present and aware of the surrounding, being proactive by looking for solutions when faced with any problem and lastly, by staying busy – reading books, exercising regularly and doing any kinds of activities which can distract them from focusing on their loneliness.

Haffizah Aliaa, who is a bipolar survivor also shared her personal experiences of having to deal with depression and bipolar disorder during her third year of studies as well as some tips on how to overcome loneliness.

Firstly, according to Haffizah, she was told by her therapist that people with mental illness like to suppress their emotions, which will result in mental stress and disorder. Therefore, Haffizah stressed on the importance of talking to someone, specifically to the people who you are close with and share your feelings with them.

Secondly, Haffizah mentioned how impactful it is to have a small conversation with your Creator in your daily life – be it the smallest things such as your desire and needs throughout the day.

Haffizah also shared her experience of having to meet 10 therapists within a span of two years in order to overcome her mental disorder. She stated that seeing a therapist has helped her overcome her emotions better and she also encouraged students to fully utilise the counselling services provided in the university.

According to Haffizah, once an individual accepts his/her mental illness, it will be easier to overcome it. “The way to overcome it is to rise and find for solutions,” she added.

Madam Emilia also shared her view regarding the issue of loneliness from education perspective. According to Madam Emilia, it would be a surprise to note that online classes are actually not the main contributor to students’ mental health problems. She added, “Even before the pandemic itself, mental health issues among students have already existed.”

Instead, Emilia believes that an individual can still suffer from loneliness despite having to face online classes or not. Based on her research findings among students regarding online classes, it is found that online classes is not the factor leading towards loneliness. In fact, it is the source for students to overcome their feeling of loneliness by communicating with lecturers and friends.

She also shared her opinion on how she believes that the issue of loneliness is related to an individual’s lifestyle. This includes their relationship with the people around them such as friends and family members.

As a lecturer herself, Emilia shared some ways for lecturers to help their students who may be facing mental health issues. According to her, it is important to take note that “different students would require different kinds of support.” Therefore, she said, it is important that lecturers are aware of the approach they are taking to help these students.

Furthermore, Emilia highlighted on three ways that can help an individual cope with the current situation, which is to adapt, adjust and communicate. She mentioned that it is important “for us to try to fit in with the current situation despite how challenging it may be”.

The talk ended with the speakers giving a brief advice and motivation to the audience on how to cope with the current situation and deal with their mental state. A short public service announcement video was also played during the commercial break to raise awareness on this issue.

The talk was joined by 49 live participants. It is the third series under the #YouMatter event hosted by IIUMtv in collaboration with Council of Principals (COPS), Counselling and Career Services Centre (CCSC), IIUMTODAY, IIUMFM, Secretariat of Psychology (PSYCSTA), Kulliyyah of Language and Management Students’ Society (KLMSS), Allied Health Science Students’ Society (HEALS), Bachelor of Education Students’ Society (BEDSA) and Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences Students’ Society (IRKHSSS).***

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