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Suicide Awareness at University

Beth O'Neill takes a look at suicide awareness at Nottingham, focusing on the SU's campaign and how this affected out students.

Whilst it is often referred to as ‘the best three years of your life’, in reality university can be a very lonely and isolating place. As students, we face pressures from all aspects of our lives: are we working hard enough, are we socialising enough, are we making the most out of our time here, and what will we do once we graduate?

For many, these pressures can become so overwhelming that it’s hard to cope, and unfortunately many will choose not to seek help or speak out about how they’re really feeling. This is often because we assume that everyone else around us is enjoying every moment of student life, and therefore perhaps there’s something wrong with us for not loving every moment of it too. But in reality, university isn’t all crisis tickets and laughs. There are ups and downs and we all experience them.

Suicide Awareness Week aimed to break the silence around mental health and suicidal thoughts, with the most poignant message being to show students that they are not alone.

Suicide Awareness boldly commenced with 95 pairs of shoes being laid on Djangoly Terrace to represent the 95 students across England and Wales that took their own lives in the 2017/18 academic year. This was a strong reminder of all the lives lost too soon and the next steps in life never taken. As the University of Nottingham does not publicise any student suicides, the awareness week was hugely eye-opening for many. When speaking to students about their thoughts on the week many felt as though the university could and should be doing more to support their students’ mental health. One student told us, “I had no idea of the scale of how many students had taken their lives before this. It’s like it’s been swept under the rug. But this has enabled students to make such a clear statement that we want change. The counselling service at uni is so overburdened but we should be asking why it’s so in demand, there’s clearly something going wrong.”

“It makes you realise that it really does affect everyone”

The range of shoes Zoe Mackenzie used what particularly effective, highlighting the vast range of individuals that struggle with their mental health during their time at university. Another student felt that, “It makes you realise that it really does affect everyone, when you have those types of thoughts it’s hard to speak to other people as you assume that it’s only a certain type of person that mental health effects. But seeing all those different shoes just goes to show that you never know who is feeling that way and is far more impactful than just hearing about it.”

‘There will always be someone who will listen and understand’

Having a support network during your time at university is really important, and whether that be your friends, your family back home or a counselling service, there will always be someone who will listen and understand. When asking for thoughts on the campaign, one student told us that, “I think the biggest part of Suicide Awareness Week for me was calling on the university to put more funding into the counselling service they offer. I have some really good friends at university, but my mental health isn’t really something I would feel comfortable discussing with them. The waiting times for counsellors are increasing, and if the shoes show us anything it’s that someone people can’t wait 6 months to get help. We pay enough money to go here, should some of that not be spent on our welfare?”

‘By breaking the silence around the issue more lives could be saved’

Although the awareness week brought up several criticisms regarding the university’s handling of students’ mental health, many found the week very positive with the hopes that by breaking the silence around the issue more lives could be saved. The last student we spoke to shared a personal story about how the campaign has affected them, “I was really stressed and heading into George Green to finish my dissertation and saw the chalk messages written on the steps, one said ‘you’re more than just a grade’ and it was really uplifting and really made me get a perspective on things’.

Although there is immense pressure to do well at uni and get that first, at the end of the day there is so much more to life and time at uni than just the degree level you come out with. Suicide Awareness Week was a hugely influential, moving and encouraging week that was widely well received by students and staff and hopefully is something that the SU will continue to run annually.

Beth O’Neill

Featured image courtesy of Marie. L. via Flickr. Image license found here.

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