Issue 01 - Loneliness


The Loneliness issue of HopeIRL deals with issues like social anxiety, transitioning from high school to college, awkward romantic moments, and feeling left out and lonely.















My Loneliness Experience and


.......................Page 1

Reflections of a First Year College


..................Page 5

Social Media Makes Me Anxious ....................Page 7

Poem: The Kiss

.............................................Page 11

Struggling with Social Connections in


..........Page 12

Lonely AF.......................................................Page 13


Welcome to HopeIRL’s first issue. We are so excited that

you’ve found us. This magazine is a project of Hopelab,

a small nonprofit social innovation lab based in San

Francisco that works with young people to co-create

technology products that improve health and happiness.

It’s a pretty rad place. Every day, we get to build cool

products and work with amazing young people like you.

And every day we’re hearing your stories. The

experiences you’re having are incredible. We’re

fascinated by what’s going on in your lives.

HopeIRL is a place to share those stories.

When our editorial team first sat down to talk about what

HopeIRL would look like, we all agreed on our vision:

create a magazine by young people, for young people.

It’s a no-brainer; your voices are so strong and

meaningful. We want to hold close to our core values for

this magazine, and will try our best to embrace your

authentic voices, promote a community built on trust,

and make it stylish AF.

This magazine is for you—the rebels, the changemakers,

the peacekeepers, the entrepreneurs, the extroverts, the

quiet ones, he, her, they, and everyone in between. It’s a

digital and print collection of stories about the things that

make us human and give us hope. Join us in this

experiment we’re calling HopeIRL.

Robin Raskob



Share your story; email



My sophomore year of college I lived in a

Berkeley duplex with my four best friends. To

an outsider, or maybe an Instagram follower,

our day-to-day lives looked a lot like any

college movie. All four of them were in

sororities, which made it easy to find

something to do on a Saturday night. As the

year progressed, a strained relationship with

one of the “best friends” led me to spend more

and more time in my room, away from the

kitchen or living room where the others would

hang out. I felt anxious about spending time

with my housemates and often doubted

myself and their feelings towards me. I told

myself they didn’t really want me to join them

for dinner, or movie night. My self-confidence

reached an all-time low.

It took a big blow-up between two of the other

girls for me to recognize and accept that I was

unhappy and that I had pulled away from my

community and also myself. To this day I still

consider each of these women close friends,

but in that house, at that time, I didn’t feel

understood, heard, or supported. I felt alone.

Really alone.






d an


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I simply





ss was

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nce it.

Not only did I feel this way, but I also felt

embarrassed about the fact that I felt alone. I

didn’t think anyone else ever felt alone, and

tapping through snapchat stories seemed to

confirm that thought. Even within my hippie

liberal Berkeley bubble I felt ashamed and

discouraged. I didn’t know what I was

experiencing or that those around me were

feeling it too.

I am a public health student who speaks

openly and honestly with classmates, friends,

and family about mental health. I take pride in

my awareness and understanding of mental

health and the impacts it has on everyday life.

But somehow, I had never spoken with

anyone about loneliness as something that

affected people my age. I simply didn’t know

what loneliness was or that people my age

could experience it.

Thanks to incredibly supportive high school

friends and family, I was able to confront my

feelings. I worked hard to find new friendships

and work on existing ones to make sure they

were healthy and supportive. Throughout this

process, I still never realized how impactful

loneliness could be on our health and


It wasn’t until Margaret Laws, Hopelab’s CEO,

came and spoke at The Fung Fellowship, a

tech and wellness fellowship I am a part of,

that I learned what loneliness is. Loneliness

is a painful feeling that acts as an “alarm

bell,” signaling that our fundamental need

for connection and belonging isn’t being

adequately met, and it’s a real problem among

college students.

I proceeded to apply for an internship at

Hopelab, and began to work on the very

project that introduced me to loneliness. Over

the course of my time here, I’ve dug into the

rich dataset from Hopelab’s 2018 National

Survey, where we measured loneliness and

social media use in over 1,300 young people,

ages 14-22. I’m now turning my focus

outwards, looking at loneliness, not only from

a research lens, but also as a student who has

recently experienced and is surrounded by

these emotions.

Written by Lena Bertozzi

Photography feat. Lena Bertozzi








R efle ctio n s of a First Year Colleg e S t u d e nt

“We’ll call every weekend.”


“And every free night.”


We stayed there hugging in the driveway, a

small knot of four people, no one wanting to

let go first. Such were the friendships I made

in high school; I spent my time mingling

between and within small groups, forming

bonds catered to specific niches.

Going into college, I expected the same. I

was rooming with two of my close friends

from high school, and looking back on it now,

I think we all assumed we’d add a few people

into our group and settle down quickly.

As it turned out, my social experience at

college was distinctly different from those

early expectations. Coming from a relatively

large graduating class, we looked forward

to meeting people from a more diverse

population and finding our niche. In practice,

this goal proved difficult. I trooped through

orientations, computer science residential

programs, club meetings, tutoring sessions,

and day-to-day classrooms, searching for

the people that I could call my day-ones,

my go-tos, my ride-or-dies. I shared many

similarities and interests with other students,

but I didn’t experience the magic click with

a single group like I expected to. In a crowd

of tens of thousands of students, there were

times when I still felt alone.







Bumping into people I knew meant lots of

heys and hellos and how are yous, always

parting on “We should catch up sometime”

and “I’ll see you soon,” promises that would

rarely be fulfilled. Everyone was always going

somewhere, running on their own ticking

timeline—“I wish I could talk more but I’m

late to class!”—like invisible stopwatches

that were always just a few seconds apart.

Friendships that seemed obvious (“I share

three classes with her; we’ll probably end

up close”) never seemed to blossom in the

right way, and the ones that were random

and utterly spontaneous seemed to take off

more than the obvious choices. Was I doing

something wrong?

Through the ups and downs of my freshman

semesters, I realized little by little that a

college experience was never going to fit my

high school expectations.





I don’t have a friend type. I don’t have one

group. I freely engage in multiple circles and

still other shapes, aiming to diversify, aiming

to build a kaleidoscope of personalities

whose experiences I can learn from and

dance among. College is still a sea of people,

but I’m finding my way through.

My college social experience so far was not

fitting into the mold that I had brought from

high school.

Written by Trevina Tran

Photography feat. Monique Nguyen





“What you’re describing is grief.”

Those words were spoken by a middle-aged female psychologist who proceeded to

recline back into her chair and cross her fingers. I recall this specific detail because the

time before I was appointed to a male therapist (against my preference) with only three

fingers on each hand. He had said the same thing. Grief; an apparent explanation for the

nauseating pain in my lower stomach, the same pain that drove me to prematurely leave

my Chinese lecture, walk three blocks down Bancroft Way and check myself into student

mental health services. “There’s no point,” I would say to myself in class “being physically

present but mentally unavailable.”

This was the prevailing mindset for my first semester at Berkeley. I began to operate in

insecurity, triggered by the prospect of taking responsibility for my own choices. The

negative beliefs I once held to be true started to materialize through unrighteous anger and

were only exacerbated by a tendency to surround myself with people who were objectively

important by virtue of inherited looks and money. Selfies were staged, alcohol was in

abundance, and as a teenager I somehow fancied myself a socialite by the likes of Zelda

Fitzgerald, determined to be seen with the “right people” at the “right parties.” In short, I

was a severely unhappy and superficial person.


Photography feat.Christopher Lloyd Chang

It is a way of functioning that does not presently strike me as foreign. As a great deal of

curious children do, throughout childhood I held onto little snippets of my parents’ dialogue

which unnerved me and tasked myself with rationalizing those words. Over time, I came to

suspect a genetic component; that they too suffered from obsessive thoughts, despair, and

possibly, that same immobilizing grief. I began to take note of such symptoms as they came

to hamper even my most basic endeavors, such as getting out of bed or eating. In January

of the next year I sought treatment from a psychiatrist in San Francisco and was formally

diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, an affliction that annually affects roughly 3%

of the US population.

I tell you this not as an aimless revelation but because visibility is important, particularly

among an audience that suppresses each perceptible sign of weakness. Pathophysiological

research suggests that “GAD” is linked to disrupted functional connectivity of the

amygdala, a set of neurons in the brain’s medial temporal lobe integral for processing

human emotion. To disregard this diagnosis with the common notion that teenagers

nowadays are entirely too fragile would be to miss the point entirely. More than anything, the

news indicated to me that more introspective work was necessary.





Although now, some time later, I’m scarcely able to pinpoint all of the non-biological stressors

that contributed to my anxiety, in the moment I was certain about one thing: limiting

social media use. Before even arriving on campus, I had already gained hundreds of mutual

followers on Instagram via the class page on Facebook. Excited by the idea of meeting

people unlike those from my rural hometown, these online connections did not appear

unusual to me. Upon walking to class, however, I was taken aback by the multiple people I

would run into who referred to me by my username. Friendships would develop through

real life interactions, only to have it later revealed that those same people already had an

idea of me through social media. “I didn’t want it to be weird,” one girl later conceded. All

judgment suspended, it still felt weird.

These awkward situations are symptomatic of my generation, “Generation Z.” The age

group which market research suggests has a preference for emojis over text, and entertains

the impulse to consume information as quickly as possible. Patience and rumination are

characteristics which, although approved in the abstract, lose ground to more instantly

negotiable gratifications. To swiftly navigate the digital era is potentially to have everything:

the world at your fingertips; validation at a whim.

“We capture a contextualizing, affective moment through trust in technology,” contends

digital rhetoric professor, Aaron Hess. “The intersection of body and machine, of analog

and digital, enables users to generate new perceptions of both the self and the device.” But

what happens when the digital mindset is imposed onto the physical world? What happens

when young adults become preoccupied with manipulating photographs to fit an unobtainable

image? We begin to neglect the people we are in real life.

This was the case for me, and thus I adopted the philosophy that if I had only spoken to

someone a handful of times or no longer saw them on a regular basis, then I was not

obligated to follow them. Being informed about these people’s lives from social media

posts as opposed to in-person interaction felt ingenuine, especially considering most of

them lived within a five block vicinity. By the end of the school year, I had unfollowed over

200 students.


It was a relief to no longer be constantly confronted with visuals of white teeth and Gucci belts

and vacations to remote Grecian islands. It was a relief to accept myself without Facetune or

filters, to not conceal the cystic acne scars which remind me that I am indeed still a teenager.

It was a relief to be exempt from the calculated portrayals which innately disagree with who I

am as a writer. No longer did I have to sacrifice authenticity for digital approval, or even

subdue my healthy sense of self-deprecation. Documenting each tragic mistake and act of

charming naivety allows for reflection, a virtue which does not currently appear to be resonant

with social media use. Take for example, Hopelab’s sponsored national survey of more than

1,300 U.S. teens and young adults which found that, “social media users are somewhat more

likely to agree than disagree that they feel like they always have to show the best version of

themselves on social media, with 53% agreeing. A majority (57%) reported feeling like other

people are doing better than they are (15% often feel that way when using social media).”

The aim here is not to point out all of Generation Z’s shortcomings, nor to suggest that I’m by

any means absolved from contemporary technological culture. It is simply to draw attention to

the increasing importance of social media in young adults’ identity formation and the means

by which different age groups utilize it differently. Is “social media” indeed being used for

social purposes, or is this a term that masks the behavior of teenagers obsessed with self

image? Should we reevaluate the perceived legitimacy behind modern online interactions?

Are social media’s benefits fleeting or long-term? These are the types of questions we at

Hopelab are asking. It is my hope that older generations, particularly those individuals who

build technologies to be disseminated across young audiences, confront these uncertainties

head on.



Christopher is 20 years old and lives in San Francisco, CA. He spends much of his time

arranging words and fulfilling dog dad responsibilities. On the weekends he is likely to be

found reviving dead houseplants or scouting for new thrift spots in the city.




Was it right?

Had I sacrificed my emotional timeline

in favor of the movie scene

first kiss?

A stone bench in Yerba Buena park,

overlooking the city and the


It was picture perfect.

Yet, emotionally blurred.

The night sky, speckled with stars

-- my cheek, speckled with your


There are small candle flames, but

no fireworks today.

The air feels a little too tense.

Was it me?

Intimacy, admittedly slightly damp,

with a hint of resolve to make it a

memorable night.

I wander home eventually.

“Are you judging me”

I ask my best friend.

“Not really … just

When did you grow up”

I didn’t know. Did I?

Unless I didn’t grow up. Unless

this wasn’t really me.

Did I choose the pretty memory over

the rightful timing?

The pattern continues.



Prior to attending college, I would say my

experience with social connections was

easier. Growing up and attending schools

in Oakland, I was surrounded by those

that came from similar socioeconomic

backgrounds. We just wanted to make it out

and eventually give back either to ourselves

or to our families and our community. The

stories of how our parents immigrated to

the U.S. for a better life resonated with most

of us. Even as someone reclusive as I am,

I was still able to make connections that,

so far, I haven’t been able to make at UC

Berkeley. Maybe it’s because I’d known my

friends from home for years, or because we

can all relate to each other; whatever it is,

these connections I’d made prior to college

had a really positive impact on me.

came true.” For the rest of the time I’ve

been at Berkeley, I haven’t been able to

make as strong connections. Sure, I made

some good friends and got along well with

my first-year roommates, but it wasn’t the

same. I couldn’t talk about the struggles

of being a low-income first-generation Indian-Lao

American cisgender male because

I was mostly surrounded by individuals that

did not come from these backgrounds.

I got diagnosed with depression and an

eating disorder in the Fall of my first year

of college, which probably contributed to

my not socializing as much as I had prior to

college. Things just seemed to get worse

socially; the only person that I really hung

out with most of the time was my girlfriend,

whom I’d also met in Summer Bridge.

I had high expectations for social connections

in college. I expected to make way

more friends in college since everyone is

supposed to be more open-minded and

we’re all on the same path of attaining a

higher education.

Part of my expectation came true while

attending Summer Bridge, which is the

summer program available to incoming

freshmen at UC Berkeley. It’s an opportunity

for scholars to take Berkeley classes while

staying in one of the on-campus dorms, and

to meet other incoming Berkeley freshmen,

potentially making long-lasting friendships.

I’m now in my sophomore year of college,

and I will still say that most of the friends

that I’ve made at Berkeley were from

Summer Bridge. I felt super connected to

my dorm floor, as if they were family.

That’s why I say “part of my expectation


That is why I’ve made it my mission to “go

out more”—literally out of my dorm—and

make new friends during my second year of

college. From my first year, I learned that I

can’t wait for potential connections to come

to me like I did prior to college; I have to

go out and search for them. Colleges are

full of students from various backgrounds.

It’s not like it’s one school where you’re

surrounded by people who look like you and

were raised like you. I’ve recently joined the

Southeast Asian Student Coalition (partly

because I’m half-Laotian and I wanted to

be in a community where I’m surrounded by

familiarity) so that I can increase my social

connections. And so far… it’s been looking

pretty good, and I have hope for myself this




What does loneliness look like to you?

Loneliness, unlike other health

paradigms, doesn’t have the most

obvious symptoms. A person can be

highly functional and lonely. A person

can be social, have a wide network of

friends and colleagues, and still be

lonely. Lonely people don’t always

“look” lonely.

If we’re being honest, I don’t look like


From the outside, I seem like a friendly,

“normal” person. I have a large social

network. I am naturally extroverted

and outgoing, and I always have

been. Even as a kid, I used to put

on “shows” for literally anyone and

everyone, and would PERFORM,

even when my audience seemed to

have way better things to do (Cough

cough, mom and dad). What I didn’t

realize is that just because I was all of

these things—outgoing, eccentric, an

audience seeker—didn’t mean I was

immune to loneliness. Which is such

a relief to now know, because I have

always felt a disconnect between my

environment and the way I felt in it.

By definition, this all makes sense

now. Loneliness can be defined as

the gap between relationships you

want and those you have, which

causes emotional pain. 1 Loneliness

is subjective, because there isn’t a

specific criteria for loneliness; you just

feel it when you do. And I feel it, in

various ways and to varying amounts,

every. Single. Day.

So when asked to listen to our newest

Hopelab project dedicated to building

social connection and reducing

loneliness in young adults, I shrank into

myself a little bit. I have many emotions

surrounding this project—I would be

lying if I didn’t say it hits a little too close

to my inner world. Why didn’t I have this

information when I was in school? Why

did no one tell me that you could be a

social butterfly and still feel so lonely


“Why didn’t I have this information

when I was in school? Why did no

one tell me that you could be a

social butterfly and still feel so

lonely inside?”

When I reminisce about my early

college years, especially my first

year, it was one of the loneliest points

in my life. Leaving high school was

exciting—a new opportunity to be this

person I had mentally built up in my

mind—a new identity, new friends, a

new place. But it was wildly different

than what I was expecting. My thought

process progressed from being

extremely excited, to “it’s going to be

okay, trust the process,” to “wait, how

are other people already so acquainted

with each other,” to “maybe I will just


felt like everyone had friends, while I

was just floating from group to group.

I felt not only disconnected from my

outer world, but from my inner world

as well. I didn’t understand how I, such

an outgoing person who was talking to

people and making “friends,” still felt

completely and utterly alone. Not only

that, I didn’t even have the language to

describe what was happening to me. I

was exhausted by constantly reaching

out to people to try to garner some sort

of social connection, especially when it

seemed like I was the only one who was

really having to try.

“I felt not only disconnected from

my outer world, but from my inner

world as well. I didn’t understand

how I, such an outgoing person who

was talking to people and making

“friends,” still felt completely and

utterly alone. “

How did everyone already have

friends? Was everyone just

automatically best friends with their

roommate? Was I missing something?

Did I just peak in high school? Maybe

I’m not as social as I thought I was. I

had all of these people around me but

no idea how to connect with them. And

even if I did—how was I going to know

if they actually liked me?

Like I mentioned, I’m an extrovert, so

making friends should be easy for me,

right? Wrong. While I do enjoy getting

to know people, I have a hard time

making deep connections with people

past a surface level. I have a guarded

approach to social connection, even

when it doesn’t seem like I do when a

person is talking to me. I won’t lie—I

have been burned in the past by close

friends. I have plenty of trauma from

my middle school years (I was severely

bullied), and that accounts for the way

I approach social connection. While I

believe these experiences made me

a stronger, more empathetic person,

those years still affect me (trauma, am I

right?). Even after joining a sorority—a

supposed network of women with

whom I was to feel immediately

connected—everything still felt forced. I

was intensely uncomfortable, paranoid

that I wasn’t doing enough, that no one

really liked me, that I was a weirdo. For

at least six months it felt like I had the

word desperate tattooed across my


The thing about loneliness is it can

trigger a cycle of connection or

disconnection, depending on our

perception of making friends and

reaching out to people. People who are

lonely generally have fixed beliefs about

themselves and their ability to form

friendships in general; this could be in

part related to the fact that society has

ingrained in us this idea that friendship

should be “easy and effortless,” that if

you have to try at a friendship it

probably isn’t worth it or going to work



awkward moments as a society, but the

truth is that any attempt at connection

runs the risk of awkwardness.

The Hopelab project I was hearing

about, Nod, is actively attempting

to shift these beliefs and disrupt the

cycle of disconnection. While I’m still

a tad bitter that this information wasn’t

available to me when I was starting

out in school, I still managed to find a

way to overcome intense feelings of

loneliness on my own, with time and my

own strategies, not surprisingly similar

to the ones presented in the share out.

“Everyone is lonely. So why is no one

talking about it? ”

Drake raps about it on his newest

album in the song Emotionless. We

explore it on television shows like

13 Reasons Why. We hear about

tragedies like suicides without any prior

knowledge of mental health issues or

depression. Thirty percent of college

students reported feeling very lonely in

the recent past; 2 even though I didn’t

realize it in college, my peers were

struggling with their own loneliness

battles. But still, no one was making an

active effort to change the narrative of

what it means to be lonely.

on campus. We can meet people 6,000

miles away through a direct message

on Instagram. Connecting isn’t the

problem. It’s the depth of connection

that is lacking. The challenge is being

able to talk about that loneliness

and express it in a way that makes

ourselves feel heard.

What Hopelab is trying to do is

change the way we think about social

interactions, and the social norms

surrounding them. Friendships aren’t

as easy to build as people say they are,

the best years of your life don’t just end

in college, and even the most social

of butterflies are sometimes secretly

hiding in their cocoons. Loneliness

will always have a bit of a hold over us

because it’s our individual perception.

But learning strategies to overcome our

own perceptions and ideations of self is

how we can conquer it.

We have the tools to connect to

each other. Facebook (or, back in the

day, “The Facebook”) was originally

created to connect college freshman


Peplau & Perlman, 1982


ACHA National College Health Assessment, 2019


A personal perspective on

loneliness in college



Written by

Maria Santana



As my understanding of loneliness and its impact on our health

and well-being has deepened over the past three years, so has

my appreciation of the gravity of psychologist Chris Peterson’s

simple but powerful statement, “other people matter.” Other people

matter, not only to our survival, but as irreplaceable contributors

to the precious, joyful experiences in life. Alongside learning to live

in harmony with our natural environment, there is nothing more

important right now than learning how to connect with our fellow

humans in a rapidly changing social and cultural world. Adding

urgency to the call is the troubling trend of increasing levels of

loneliness among teens and young adults in the U.S. As the stories

in this zine evidence, loneliness is not the same as being alone.

Gen Z students suffer more loneliness than any other generation

that we know of, but Gen Z students are not to blame. Loneliness is

a state that cannot be explained by one root cause, andthe fact that

it is on the rise across the entire population points to the influence

of social, cultural,and environmental factors. Personally, I think

bringing youth and experts together to work on and test solutions

that address loneliness is the way forward. By learning what works,

we can not only improve the health and quality of life for people who

experience loneliness, but we can also contribute new knowledge

to better understand its psychological and behavioral drivers.

At Hopelab, we’re working with students to design a mobile app

that empowers them to build the social connections they want

and need to be successful in college. You can check it out at It’s not quite ready yet, but you can sign up, and

when it is, you can use it and tell us what you think.

In the meantime, you can take the enhanced awareness you have

around loneliness and turn it into motivation to invest in your own

social connections. I’m certain if you do, you’ll find that, indeed,

other people matter.

Caroline Fitzgerald

Project Lead, Strategy and Design




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HopeIRL is produced with generous support from Hopelab, a social

innovation lab based in San Francisco, CA that creates

behavior-change tech to help teens and young adults live happier

healthier lives. To learn more about how the organization works with

young people to co-create products to improve health and

well-being visit




My Loneliness Experience

and Awakening

Reflections of a First Year

College Student

Social Media Makes Me


Poem: The Kiss

Struggling with Social

Connections in College

Lonely AF

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