Student Suicide: The Silent Killer

Credit: Maria Mellor

By George Watkins

It was a cold, grey day in February, and I wasn’t in a good place. It was my seventh year of dealing with anxiety and depression, and since coming to university I had found myself steadily getting better and better, but in those few days I couldn’t appreciate just how far I’d come, so I was on the verge of doing something stupid. I nearly committed suicide.

I walked out of my university and sat on a wall thinking ‘This is it. I’m done.’ Thankfully I wasn’t done. Instead, I called Samaritans, talked it through with them, then went to our drop-in counselling services here at Cardiff and fleshed out exactly what was going on inside my head. I came home, after contacting my friends before and beginning to really scare them, hugged them, had a cup of tea and burst into tears. I’m still here 8 months later. The thoughts come and go, but it gets easier every day.

Why am I telling you this apart from me being a desperate for a sympathy vote? Student suicide is rampant on campuses across the UK. Most students will be able to report hearing of events like this taking place on their campus, such as a young girl who took her own life here in April of this year. In 2014, the Office for National Statistics reported, there were 130 suicides amongst students in England and Wales, rising by 30 from the previous year. It is also the biggest killer of men under the age of 49. These figures seem to be growing year on year, and there seems to be no stopping it any time soon unless something changes. What can we do?

The first problem is funding. According to the Higher Education Policy Institute, the salaries of university vice-chancellors, often above £200,000 a year, could cover the entire counselling facility for institutions with the lowest levels of funding. Some universities are recommended to even need to triple their budget to keep on top of the rise in demand. There is a no publicly available figure for the majority of universities, but it seems simple: raise the level of funding and improve the ratio of students to counsellors so that nobody is turned away at their most vulnerable.

The second is culture. 97 of the 130 suicides in 2014 were male. This is a difficult area to explore in enough depth, but the premise is simple: men are much less likely to seek help for mental health than women. A culture that still promotes the ridiculous ideal of a macho man is never going to achieve anything less than feelings of failure and inadequacy. One in four of us will statistically suffer from a mental health problem at one point or another, with 75% of these manifesting themselves before the age of 18. That equates to 7000 of the 28,000 students at Cardiff University, very roughly being at least 2500 male students currently suffering. But yet, there are very few voices from the male community saying that this is something that is neither good enough, but also downright dangerous.

There are other areas that others will no doubt pick up on for where we as a student culture need to improve upon, but the message is simple: we are failing one another for every suicide that takes place on a university campus, because while issues like this need proper treatment from professionals, as a community we need to come together and keep talking about this issue for the unspoken problem that it is before it happens again.

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