For a long time, it was thought that university campuses offered safe environments for those suffering from mental health problems, and had lower rates of suicide than amongst those of the same age in the general population. In May, at the International Suicide Prevention Conference in New Zealand, researchers based in Hong Kong will present data from the past decade, to prove that this is no longer the case.
Suicide is the biggest killer of young people aged 20-34 in the UK, and the numbers of deaths have continued to rise steadily since records began in 2001. 2016 was the worst year for student suicides, when 146 students took their lives.
Whilst suicide has historically been an issue plaguing males, Dr Raymond Kwok, of the Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention, at Hong Kong University, precluded next month’s data with the revelation that there was a “significant trend in rising suicides for UK female students, with the exception of those in Scotland.”
Co-author of the data, Edward Pinkey, stated: “This is the first time we can conclusively say that as far as suicide is concerned, there is a real problem in higher education”.
This troubling issue is larger than previously thought, with student suicide rates sharply climbing by 56% between the years of 2007 and 2016. It is thought that increased financial pressure following the financial crisis may have provoked this, on top of the academic pressure faced by students.[pullquote]Those in trouble should not hesitate to speak to a medical professional such as a GP for help[/pullquote]
For one reason or another, 75% of young people with a mental health issue do not receive treatment. This is arguably in part due to the low NHS mental health budget, which has been further slashed to the equivalent of £8 per sufferer. Recent years have seen many social media sites have also been blamed for aggravating mental health issues amongst young people.
In 2017, the American Journal of Preventative Medicine published an article showing a direct correlation between social media use and “perceived social isolation”. Instagram is said to be the worst platform for inspiring such feelings, including social anxiety and depression, which can begin a negative spiral towards suicide. The much-maligned Facebook also admitted recently that use of their platform could pose a risk to the emotional well-being of users.
A YouGov/MQ survey showed that over one quarter (27%) of students struggle with mental health problems. The survey also revealed that male students are far less likely to say they have mental health problems than females (19% v 34%). Whilst the stigma surrounding mental health has certainly thawed in society recently, opening up about such personal and difficult issues clearly remains problematic for many. According to the Institute for Public Policy Research, as of the start of this academic year, there has been a staggering fivefold increase in first-years disclosing mental health issues, compared to the previous decade.
As worrying as this statistic is, we can find hope in that more people are talking about mental health issues and suicide. Having an open dialogue about mental health is key to tackling it. The important thing for those who are suffering is to remember that you are not alone, no matter how much it may feel like it. Reaching out to a close friend or someone you trust can help ease you through what is an extremely dark and scary period.
The university offers support through personal tutors, councillors, and networks such as Stressed Out Students (SOS), especially during exam period. Such people will have heard of similar problems many times before, and will know how to best offer the support needed. Those in trouble should also not hesitate to speak to a medical professional such as a GP for help.
One death caused by suicide is too many. And in the light of these recent statistics, the responsibility falls not only on our university to take on a more active role in the prevention of student suicides, but also to ourselves.
We all struggle to take care of ourselves sometimes, which is exactly why our community, must look out for our each other- friends and strangers alike.