It’s time for universities to stop sweeping suicide under the carpet
We shouldn’t have to find out through tabloid headlines
This week saw the fourth death at Bristol in four months of a student believed to have committed suicide. Lara Nosiru, a 23-year-old Neuroscience student, was found near the Clifton suspension bridge near Avon Gorge.
Daniel Green. Kim Long. Miranda Williams. Four deaths in four months. Saher Ahmad, Daniel Pinfold, Christopher Walsh and Azusa Nose all at York. Lauren McQuaid at Cardiff. Andrew Stoney at Manchester. Luigi Trenti-Paroli and Christopher Harr at Oxford. Niall Paraskos at Northumbria.
These are just some of the students who committed suicide in the last 12 months or so. Notice anything? Only one of them isn’t at a Russell Group university. That’s not because going to a university with higher entry requirements means more stress. The reality is far different.
In 2014 alone, there were 130 recorded suicides of students in England and Wales. With the growth in awareness of mental health issues, the figures for 2015 and 2016 are likely to be similar. But the news of these deaths only reaches campus through national media outlets, obsessed with sensationalising the tragedy surrounding wealthy universities and the young people at them. How much does their dad earn? How expensive was their fee paying private school in a leafy suburb? Were they a keen horse rider or rower or rugby player?
Why do tabloid papers think they can use the deaths of vulnerable young people as a vehicle for bringing students down a notch? If we’re not snowflakes, we’re either throwing up in our ‘uni digs’ or we’re killing ourselves.
To national media outlets, only Russell Group universities matter, so we only find out about deaths at the elite, and rarely elsewhere. If universities stood up to the issue, and stopped sweeping suicide under the rug and created a more measured conversation around the issue, we’d find out tragic news in a much better way, as opposed to seeing their peers’ Facebook photos on the splash of Mail Online. Creepy journalists are only piggy backing on an issue created by universities more concerned with protecting their reputation than their students.
Last year, we published a six month long investigation into the state of mental health counselling services. It showed a dismal array of failures, and concluded that universities were hushing up the issue by failing to provide the relevant funding to care for its students and making the problem worse. Thousands of vulnerable young people seeking help and an unknown number of deaths. This is what it took to force a change. York to invest £500,000 and Bristol £1,000,000. Each saw four students commit suicide in a short space of time.
It’s time to address this. Universities need to be open. The father of one of the Bristol students who died summed it up perfectly at the time: “I don’t think there is enough pastoral care for students once they arrive at university. It is quite a step-up from sixth form. When I was told about the three deaths I was surprised there was no official news about it. I think it is something which should be discussed and people made aware of.”
They fear copycat cases – the more suicide is talked about, the more people will commit suicide. But what if suicide being talked about helped people to understand they weren’t alone, that help is on offer? What if, during Freshers’ Week, there was a induction for the counselling service as opposed to the library? Here’s how to scan a book – great, you knew that one. Here’s who you can talk to, anonymously, at any time of day whatever you’re problem – nope, you had no clue it was there. There are, as we regularly report on, several options open to students who need counselling and need to seek help.
There have been far more than the 14 deaths mentioned earlier and the picture, when we know it, will be bleak. But instead of waiting to find out, it’s time we acted and it’s time to stop suicide from being a hushed up issue.
You can talk to someone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, by calling Samartians on 116 123 or check your university’s counselling page.