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World Suicide Prevention Day

World Suicide Prevention Day: why student mental health is so important

CW: This article will contain talk of suicide and mental health.

Every year, on 10th September, the world acknowledges World Suicide Prevention Day. Around this time, you'll find lots of people sharing posts, resources, or writing articles just like this one.

Alarmingly, student suicide rates have risen by 56% in the past 10 years, exceeding the rate of the general youth population.

One in four students report having some kind of mental health issue, and 95 students end their own life every year. That amounts to a student suicide every four days in a year.

With statistics like this, one thing's for sure—one day dedicated to preventing suicide isn't enough. There is a mental health crisis amongst students in the UK that needs to be consistently acknowledged, monitored and tackled 365 days of the year, not just on World Suicide Prevention Day.

Why students are more prone to suicide:

One thing we need to bear in mind is that the age students set off to university is the time where mental issues like depression and anxiety—the leading causes of suicide—begin to manifest.

With 75% of mental health issues occurring by the time someone reaches 24, universities need to be more attuned to signs that students might be in the midst of a mental health crisis—especially since rates of anxiety of and depression in young people have increased by 70% in the last 25 years.

As a student, I can tell you that university is a very full-on and life-changing experience. Whilst the intensive environment a student is surrounded by would undoubtedly be the making of some, we need to remember that the level of intensity students face daily can and will take a toll on even the strongest people.

A recent report by Fresh Student Living listed several factors that students reported as contributing to the student mental health crisis, including:

  • Academic pressure
  • The financial strain
  • Social media: specifically the impact of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) and cyberbullying
  • A lack of accessibility to and the presence of support
  • Dissatisfaction with your course/life and uncertainty of your future path
The trouble is, a lot of these contributing factors like academic pressure, uncertainty and financial strain are unavoidable as a student.

It is impossible to protect students from some of these things, but what universities can do is work harder to equip students with the skills to deal with some of these challenges and, most importantly, improve the presence and accessibility of their in-house support services as well as signposting external organisations that can help.

Case Study: Bristol University

If you're in any doubt that universities need to be more proactive with student mental health, look no further than the University of Bristol. A prestigious, red brick Russell Group, many people see Bristol as the pathway to a good career and lifetime of happiness, development and prosperity.

Recently, however, the institution has come into the spotlight for a much more disturbing reason: in the last three years, thirteen of their students have died in reported suicides.

Amongst these deaths was 19-year-old Ben Murray. The teenager took his own life in May 2018 after the university kicked him off his course.

Due to crippling anxiety, he had struggled to attend lectures and even missed an exam. In a formal telephone meeting with a Senior Tutor regarding his attendance, he explained that he was struggling to settle in at university.

The tutor's only response was to say that this was 'quite natural', and then emailed Ben links to the university's Student Services department. However, he never followed up with Ben to see if he had been in contact with them.

Also, according to Ben's dad, he had never met his assigned Personal Tutor—the first port of call for students with welfare issues—during his time at university.

As reported by the BBC, the coroner looking into Ben's death confirmed the cause of suicide, and criticised the university for not carrying out a 'serious investigation' into Ben's death, and argued that 'universities carry an important pastoral role'.

A role that, despite a revised Suicide Prevention and Response Plan, the university still fails to carry out.

In May this year, they ignored students, MPs and campaigners who petitioned the university to make a Zero-Suicide Pledge.

Subsequently, just last month, Chemistry undergraduate Maria Stancliffe-Cook died suddenly in a suspected suicide. She would be the thirteenth Bristol student to end their life in just three years.

However, the University of Bristol isn't an isolated incident. It is indicative of a deeper, institutional problem around student mental health that all universities should work to tackle this Suicide Prevention Day.

One student, who attends university in the South East, had this to say about his university's support system:

"With my depression and anxiety, I don't feel that my university has done enough. I've been on the waiting list for counselling there since I started, and I'm now about to begin my third and final year. When I've disclosed my mental health struggles to lecturers, they've been supportive—but there's only so much they can do on their own when there's no real infrastructure in place at the university. We are ultimately seen as customers, not living, breathing people."

So, with World Suicide Prevention Day now over, is that the end of people taking notice of the growing student mental health crisis? How many more people have to die before universities finally start to take it seriously?
If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, there are several organisations and helplines who can help and support you. If you need any urgent assistance, please call the Samaritans helpline on 116 123.