“Support for Mental Health: Suicide Prevention in Universities”
By NCVC Staff | Published on Oct 11, 2023
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Please be advised that this content contains sensitive information about suicide and depression. If you are affected by this, please seek help. Contact details can be found at the end of this article.
We often hear about the increasing importance of mental health in universities. It’s no surprise, considering that most mental health problems develop by the age of 24, making university students particularly vulnerable. The number of student suicides is a matter of great concern. In fact, in the 12 months leading up to July 2017, there were 95 suicides among higher education students in England and Wales, meaning one tragedy every four days.
The media has played a significant role in shedding light on student mental health, and the government has taken steps to address this issue. The establishment of the Student Mental Health Taskforce and the increasing attention it brings are positive developments. However, it is important to remember that the rate of student suicides is lower compared to the general population of young people. This suggests that efforts to reduce suicides should extend beyond universities.
More male students die by suicide
Digging deeper into the data from 2000 to 2017, we find that two-thirds of student suicides in England and Wales were male. Why is this the case? The link between suicide and acute mental distress calls for examining gender differences in mental health.
Traditional concepts of masculinity, characterized by strength, stoicism, dominance, and control, may negatively impact men’s mental well-being. Men may find it challenging to express their concerns or seek help due to societal expectations. Furthermore, symptoms of depression in men may manifest as anger or irritation, making them less likely to be identified or correctly diagnosed.
It is vital to proactively reach out to male students who may be struggling with their mental health, as mental health issues increase the risk of suicide.
How universities can help prevent student suicides
Papyrus and Universities UK have recently published suicide prevention guidance for universities, presenting practical steps to take. One key recommendation is the provision of suicide awareness training for all staff members who interact with students. This training aims to equip staff with the skills to identify signs of student distress and respond appropriately.
While suicide awareness training is undoubtedly helpful, it is essential to consider the emotional impact on not only students but also academic and teaching staff. These staff members are increasingly expected to take on welfare responsibilities, in addition to their primary roles.
Despite the growing focus on student mental health, more research is needed to enhance our understanding of suicide in this population. Accurate data and in-depth studies are necessary to tackle this complex issue effectively.
A whole-university approach to suicide prevention is crucial. This entails university leaders taking organizational responsibility for student and staff mental health, prioritizing suicide prevention based on best practices.
How students can support their mental health and others
Students experience various challenges related to their personal and academic lives. Equipping them with skills to manage these pressures and maintain their mental well-being can prevent the development of mental health problems.
Here are three things students can do to support themselves and others:
1. Find your niche
Explore what your university offers, such as societies, sports, or volunteering groups, to connect with like-minded individuals. Remember, there is a world beyond campus, and you may find groups or activities of interest in your local community.
2. Learn about available mental health services
Take the time to understand the mental health services available at your university. Many students are unaware of the support they can access. You can act as an informal advocate for student mental health by sharing this information with your peers.
3. Reach out to others
If you notice a fellow student struggling, extend a helping hand. Look out for signs of difficulty, such as withdrawal or expressing feelings of hopelessness or being trapped. It’s okay to ask your peers how they’re feeling and offer a supportive ear. Creating an atmosphere of openness and connection can make a significant difference.
If you require immediate assistance or support for your mental health, here are a few organizations you can turn to:
- Student Minds: A charity focused on improving student mental health through innovative approaches.
- Papyrus: A suicide prevention charity offering helpful resources and helpline support for young people at risk of suicide or concerned about someone.
- Samaritans: A UK-based charity providing emotional support to those in distress or at risk of suicide.
- Togetherall: An online mental health community offering 24/7 support in a judgment-free environment.
Remember, if you are feeling like ending your life or are unable to keep yourself safe, contact emergency services immediately. Seek help from your local GP or visit your nearest Accident & Emergency department if necessary.
Let’s work together to bring about positive change in student mental health support and prevent student suicides.