While there are many fish in the sea at USC, sometimes forming lasting relationships can be difficult. Despite being surrounded by thousands of people, feelings of isolation can weigh heavily on students.
As a result of the pandemic, students have gone more than a year without the prototypical college experience, which some students say has contributed significantly to social distress.
“We went from Zoom, social media and text messaging being our formal ways of communicating and connecting,” said Danielle Gautt, assistant director of Outreach and Prevention Services at USC Student Health’s Counseling and Mental Health Services. “Now we’re back on campus and living together.”
The pandemic-induced health protocols have diminished the tendency of students to socialize.
“Some folks are simply just trying to go to school and then retreat back to their homes rather than lingering around and socializing as they probably may have done in the past,” said Kelly Vuong, a graduate student in the School of Social Work and Gerontology.
Living situations go hand in hand with opportunities to meet new people, which poses a problem for transfer students who were last in line for housing selection.
“This year, most of the transfer students who got housing were put in off-campus housing, so you’re away from campus and away from that atmosphere,” said Hayden Hurt, a junior transfer English major.
Living off-campus can make students feel absent from the university, which is the hub of social activity, Hurt added.
Gautt also highlighted the importance of relationships when it comes to mental health. When students lack a friend to rely on during strenuous times, their overall self-esteem and mental well-being deteriorates.
“There’s an extremely strong correlation between individuals who are experiencing low mood and high levels of anxiety and a lack of social interaction,” Gautt said.
Ng emphasized the importance of having a friend to talk to about your problems, as they can provide an alternative perspective and potential solutions.
“Sometimes you need to complain about things you’re facing, like stress, to somebody who is willing to listen,” Ng said.
The mental health struggles caused by not having strong relationships can impact students’ academically. Stress hinders one’s ability to focus and to complete tasks, which inherently leads to a negative academic output, Gautt added.
Even prior to the pandemic, some students said they felt isolated by the personality of a “stereotypical” USC student.
“There is a sort of personality that USC has. You can imagine what USC would look like if it was a person,” said Reuben Levine, senior Mechanical Engineering major. “I feel my best guess is that people who have a personality that’s very different from the personality of USC have a difficult time finding their niche.”
Even if students feel all hope is lost, there are programs at USC for students to connect with others.
Broderick Leaks, a director of counseling and mental health at USC Student Health, leads a program called Social Confidence Group, which focuses on individuals with social and performance anxiety. The group covers topics such as anxiety management, assertiveness and communication skills and helps students feel they are not alone and that there are tons of other students who are experiencing the same difficulties.
“It’s a great place to get some support and to be around peers who may be having some of the same challenges,” Gautt said.
The group meets on Wednesdays from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. or Fridays from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Engemann Student Health Center.