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The Tragic Rise of Student Suicide

Just before the end of 2012, there was a lot of talk about the issue of student suicide. It was splashed throughout the press because of some figures released by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) revealing that in the period between 2007 and 2011, the number of suicides by male students in full-time education rose by 36 per cent.

The statistics were released thanks to Ed Pinkney, founder of the student mental health charity Mental Wealth UK, who made a Freedom of Information request and wrote about his findings for The Guardian.

Ed’s article was all about the concern that there isn’t enough being done to help students who are not only struggling with debt, but are also worried about rubbish job prospects after graduation.

Referring back to a report published by the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) that advised there was a “pressing need” for more to be done, Ed Pinkey has called for the government to provide guidance to universities and colleges, and for everyone involved to adopt a “whole-institution” approach. As opposed to the somewhat fractured support services that are mostly in place at the moment.

However, that’s a lot easier said than done in a climate of budget cuts.

At around the same time as Ed’s article, the issue of student suicide was highlighted by the sad story of Toby Thorn.

In an interview for the BBC, Toby’s mum talked about the gut-wrenching loss of her son: Toby took his own life after dropping out of Anglia Ruskin University with an £8,000 debt.

Toby’s mum spoke about the inquest’s ruling that debt played a large part in Toby’s death.

Sadly, this is not an unusual case, and according to a study published by the British Medical Journal back in March 2012, debt could have been related to as many as 1,000 suicides in the UK.

The National Union of Students (NUS) responded at the time by calling the ONS statistics “worrying”. Hannah Paterson, a NUS disabled student’s officer, has talked about how debt adds to the pressure to do well, “When you’re paying that much for your education, coming out with a good mark matters even more.”

Unfortunately, tuition fees look set to stay, as do the cuts, and so to try and tackle the problem, it looks like it’s up to everyone to come together and try to make a change.

Back in 2011, Ed set up the 25by2012 campaign that aimed to get 25 mental health and wellbeing groups established in universities by the end of the year, and it went down so well that it only took three months to achieve.

Taking a peer-led approach, Ed wanted the focus to be about getting students to open up to each other: “It’s our peers that we tend to talk to about day-to-day struggles and our peers that determine how we discuss issues around mental health.”

The campaign is in no way finished, so Google it to find out more about how to raise awareness on a campus near you and get people talking.

Getting stuff off your chest can, and does, help, and during the interview with Toby Thorn’s mum, she clearly wished the family had known about her son’s debts and his worries about them, because, in her words, “in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t a lot of money…” and maybe they could have helped him to figure it out.

So, if you need to talk to someone about debt, or anything that’s worrying you, turn to someone you trust.  There are friends and family out there willing and able to help and listen.  The anticipation of talking about your problems is infinitely worse than the reality.

If talking to friends or family is not an option, then call CALM: the helpline is there every evening, all year round, always there to listen and, if need be, will put you in touch with people that can help.

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