TW: Contains a discussion on suicide
Sitting round the table with my housemates as we all desperately try and finish an essay we’ve all (stupidly and inevitably) left to the last minute, one of us sighs dramatically, saying with great effect: “if I don’t finish this in time I think I’m going to commit.” Everyone nods in agreement and turn back to their bright, flickering computer screens.
Whilst my housemate probably thought nothing of the comment at the time, the words twinged something inside me - something that I hadn’t wanted to think about in a long time. These words, so flippantly and carelessly tossed across the table are words that are in fact, killing us.
The number of suicides that occur at University have risen to their highest ever since 2007. Young men especially are becoming victims of silence - scared and ashamed to admit that something is wrong. This term alone, University of Bristol has seen three separate suicides, a shocking and harrowing reminder of the terrible consequences of this silence.
Going to University can be one of the most frightening and uprooting transitions to make. Leaving home, friends, family, comforts is a difficult change that can often leave people feeling isolated and alone. One in four people suffer from mental illness and yet the stigma couldn’t be stronger. As we all desperately try and fit in at freshers, drinking half a bottle of sambuca with your new pal in order to feel like “one of the gang”, we can’t seem to speak the words: I need help. Reading about the three students, I couldn’t help but feel the unbearable sadness that these students had felt as if they had no other alternative.
The problem is it’s difficult to see through it when your mind is what distinguishes your reality. In my case, my reality became one thought: I am not worth being kept alive. During freshers this thought followed me everywhere; when I got up, when I brushed my teeth, when I walked to Uni, while I ate dinner and while I lay awake, rolling the thought around and around my head. The pressure of keeping up, maintaining a social life, doing well at university, financial pressures, love life etc etc all amounted to feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness. Thoughts that tried to kill me.
I was lucky. I found help and although the suicidal thoughts still come creeping back from time to time I now know that I do deserve to live. But the fact that three students didn’t says so much more.
During our time at University, the university administration has a duty of care to ensure that we all feel as if our mental wellbeing is a priority. Pastoral care has to change because the increasing numbers suggest we just aren’t doing enough. Whilst I understand that the University and NHS are under increasing economic strain to maintain a functioning and adaptable service, we cannot forfeit having useful pastoral care that is so desperately needed. Six week waiting lists can no longer be an option. Students told to “call back” or book an appointment for the following week cannot happen.
But perhaps what is most important is breaking the silence. If we do not break the stigma and begin to discuss our complex mental health difficulties, students suffering will be stuck in a self-perpetuating circle. Forced to feel as if their isolation is impenetrable, forced in fact to laugh along at their housemate’s suicide joke and turn silently back to their computer screen.
If you or anyone you know is suffering from suicidal thoughts, please check out the links below:
- Big White Wall (Available 24/7): www.bristol.ac.uk/students/services/mental-health/big- white-wall/
- The Samaritans (Available 24/7): phone 116 123, email firstname.lastname@example.org
- HOPELine UK (Text, phone and email) www.papyrus-uk.org/help-advice/about-hopelineuk
-Nightline - everyday 8pm-8am 0117 331 8600
If you feel in need of support in the days and weeks ahead, please take a look at www.bristol.ac.uk/students/services/mental-health/ and make use of the information and advice available.