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Tackling loneliness in young adults with the Univative Program

My name is Diana, I’m a third-year psychology student at Macquarie University, and I’m hijacking this blog post to tell you all about a really cool program called Univative that introduced me, along with a bunch of other uni students to this amazing organisation, Be Someone For Someone!

Univative is a month-long, interdisciplinary competition where teams representing their university compete against each other to find a solution to a real-world problem that their allocated organisation is trying to solve.

My team, along with the two other teams we competed against (University of Technology Sydney and Southern Cross University) were so fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with Be Someone For Someone a few months ago, to come up with a national program to combat loneliness in Australian university students.

Before this challenge, my teammates and I had never heard of Feros Care or Be Someone For Someone (which I’ll call BSFS from now on, because spoiler alert: I’ll be raving about them a lot!). We were so excited when we saw the challenge they set for us, because it was something that strongly resonated with us as uni students.

Now I’m not going to lie, when we did some initial research on both organisations, we were a bit confused as to why they were interested in looking at young people when their work focuses so strongly on older adults and people with disabilities.

However, when all three of our teams met with Jo Winwood (Head of BSFS) and Nicole Reeve (Events and Commercial Advisor of BSFS) for the first time, we learned that BSFS’s research found that young adults were some of the loneliest people in Australia, with over 1 in 3 reporting problematic levels of loneliness in the Young Australian Loneliness Survey (2019).

Now we were already really impressed with the message that BSFS stands for, but we were even more impressed that they were willing to step into a demographic that they had never tackled before, because they refuse to sit back and do nothing when there is such a clear need in the community.

If that’s not pretty darn impressive enough, BSFS also made the smart decision of enlisting the help of a bunch of uni students to get some insight as to what would make a genuine change in our demographic

Six students waving in a virtual conference

The Macquarie University team

THE PROCESS

Part of our challenge was to do a bunch of research on loneliness in young adults, and to understand some of the triggers behind it so that we could fully understand the problem before diving into the solution.

Our team not only immersed ourselves in other people’s research, but we also conducted some research of our own by creating a questionnaire which ended up getting over 130 responses in just a few days!

Our study had similar findings to the Young Australian Loneliness Survey, with almost one third of students reporting that they felt lonely on a somewhat regular basis.

Team UTS also conducted their own questionnaires, and both of our studies found a few main triggers for loneliness in our age demographic, such as adjusting to uni life as a new student, geographical distance, and not having enough meaningful interactions with people.

Although it was really interesting to see such a wide variety of uni students’ experiences of loneliness, it was also really sad to see just how many young people are affected by it.

But for us, it was all the more reason to work our butts off and come up with something that could actually make a real impact.

THE SOLUTIONS

After adapting our solution in response to additional research, feedback from some questionnaire respondents we interviewed, and from touching base with Jo every week, we came up with “4Us” (which kind of sounds like Feros!). 4Us is a social platform with tonnes of features that would give uni students a safe space to connect with peers they wouldn’t normally meet, strengthen their social skills, and provide opportunities to contribute to the wider community.

However, after being hyper focused on our solution for four weeks straight, it was really cool being able to see what the other teams came up with in the end!

Team UTS proposed “UniConnect”, an app that would allow students to meet each other and form relationships through lunches, activities, and any public transport commutes they might have in common.

Team SCU put forward the “Adopt-a-Grandparent” program, which would allow uni students to be paired up with an elderly person to alleviate loneliness in both young adults and older adults.

Although my team was fortunate enough to win first place, it’d be a shame not to take on elements from UTS and SCU’s solutions, which is why BSFS is currently brewing up a possible program incorporating elements of all three of our solutions...

We can’t wait to see what they do next!

You can watch the Macquarie University team video project here