Student Ben Murray was 19 and in the first year of an English degree at Bristol University when he committed suicide in May this year. The straight A student with a “brilliant mind” was hiding his anxiety from the family and friends who loved him, admitting to his father on the morning of his suicide that he had been “bottling up his feelings and thoughts”.
In an interview with BBC education editor Branwen Jeffreys, James Murray urged students and their universities to look out for each other, and encouraged new students to attend wellbeing sessions “because it may enable them to help friends as well as themselves.”
Today is #WorldSuicidePreventionDay.
As University terms begin, please know you can ring Nightline to talk about anything that’s bothering you; we are here to listen.
— NightlineAssociation (@NightlineAssoc) September 10, 2018
Ben was one of at least 95 students in England and Wales took their own lives in 2016-17. Universities UK has published new suicide prevention advice and says any suicidal thought, even a suggestion of one, should be acted upon and not treated as “attention seeking”.
Mr Murray wants to encourage universities to “make it [talking about difficulties and anxieties] everyone’s business” to provide maximum awareness of signs of stress, and how to get help. He cautioned that in earlier intervention “in cases like that of Ben” is needed. Students should talk about their worries when they first begin, to reduce risk to mental health and wellbeing, and prevent more student suicides.
Pls RT. #Project84 told the stories of the 84 men who die by suicide every week. Today is #WorldSuicidePreventionDay and we’re keeping the conversation going. Let’s #StandAgainstSuicide & call for government action 👉https://t.co/4dUQBMt7pm pic.twitter.com/oWtbUaddmZ
— CALM (@theCALMzone) September 10, 2018
Symptoms of stress will manifest in different ways, in different people, and may not follow any pattern. The NHS tells us that signs of depression and anxiety include:
- feeling more anxious or agitated than usual, or feeling low
- losing interest and motivation
- weight loss or gain
- lack of attention to personal appearance and/or hygiene
- mania or complete withdrawal
- problems sleeping: too much or too little
So if someone in your halls hasn’t left their room for days on end, or hasn’t washed or changed their clothes for a week, it might be time to intervene.
84 men in the UK take their own lives every week. Eighty-four. It's time to speak out and take a stand against male suicide https://t.co/dvBPsFVJlu @Schofe @EamonnHolmes @therealgokwan @MartinSLewis @DrRanj @Ginofantastico #Project84 pic.twitter.com/EJZUmuIkVT
— This Morning (@thismorning) March 27, 2018
Being in an anxious or stressed state, or feeling sad from time-to-time is normal. But if these feelings don’t go away after a couple of weeks, or if your studies and daily activities are impacted, it’s time to get help.
Your university website will have a section to health and wellbeing, and it’s there you’ll find details of any resident mental health advisor, as well as details of professional counselling services. In addition to free support, you may also be entitled to “reasonable adjustments” including specialist support and extra time to complete work.
See if your student union has someone who will talk things through with you, who is unlikely to be qualified, but will understand some of the challenges that students face and can offer a face-to-face chat, as well as online self-help guides like Students Against Depression, or NHS Choices’ Moodzone.
And of course, there’s your network of friends and family, at university and at home.
Just one in three people who die by suicide are known to mental health services. It really is important to watch out for each other and ensure those that need help, can get it. And look out for yourself too. If you’re keeping an eye out for the people around you, it’s good to know they’re keeping an eye out for you too.