Just over a month ago, I read an article that has stuck with me for a few weeks. Here is a link to it:
As you can see from the headline in the link, the suicide level for UK university students is at a record level (134 in 2015). Furthermore, the article, which is based on a study from the IPRR think-tank, showed that a record number of students with mental health problems dropped out of university.
From a criminological standpoint, suicide is not a particularly interesting issue, as suicide has been legal for several decades under the 1961 Suicide Act. Therefore, instead of thinking as a criminologist, I want to consider this issue from a more general perspective and to make two main points.
Firstly, according to the article, the main causes of student mental health problems appear to be student debts and pressure. It would be foolish to ignore the validity of those points. Compared to previous generations of students, certainly going back twenty to thirty years when only the truly elite went to university but generally got funded to go without having to take out loans, today’s students do get a raw deal.
Nevertheless, many universities are recognizing this problem and are investing more resources into supporting students. One friend of mine has used the free counselling service at the University of Leicester and was impressed with the support he received. Tuition fees are extremely high but some of that extra money that universities receive has helped fund additional support services. For example, the Student Services team, mainly located in the Charles Wilson building, has staff available to help with many different aspects of university life. And that does not include the academic support you can receive from your department and personal tutor, or additional support from the Students Union. Many universities, including the University of Leicester, will do a lot to help their students thrive…but they cannot help unless they know there is a problem…
Which brings me to one of the few arguably positive things in the article that record numbers of first year students are disclosing mental health problems. Obviously we would rather fewer students had mental health problems to begin with. But the issue of disclosure is critical. One reason why mental health problems often cause so much damage and in many cases lead to suicide is that people try and deal with them alone. Therefore my advice to any students who think they might have a mental health problem or are experiencing anxiety about something is to tell someone about it and to do it today. The identity of the person you tell is a personal decision for you alone to make. Sometimes by making that first step and talking to someone, you realise that you do not have to suffer alone. That might not solve the full problem, but it is an excellent start.