By: Emily Maybanks
I watched a BBC Three documentary on BBC iPlayer called Death On Campus: Our Stories. It’s been on iPlayer since 12th November 2017. The description is as follows: Suicide rates in British universities have reached an unprecedented high – nearly doubling in the last 10 years.This documentary uses the testimony of loved ones to piece together the last days and hours of three students who took their own lives under the pressures of the academic, financial and social expectations of university.They include 22 year old Lucy, who was doing multiple jobs to fund herself through a nursing degree at John Moore’s University in Liverpool. Feeling exhausted and distraught after splitting with her boyfriend, she ended her life in February this year.
Watching the documentary was quite a harrowing experience and it gives an extremely personal and powerful perspective on what it’s like to lose a loved one to suicide. It certainly makes you realise that it is absolutely critical to look after your mental health as well as look out for your friends at university who might be struggling – in silence – with their mental health and the pressures of university, whether it be academic, financial or social.
According to an article from The Telegraph (dated 1st April 2017), “according to ONS figures, the number of deaths by suicide among students in England and Wales alone has risen by over 50% in the past ten years. Meanwhile, universities across the UK are facing a 50% rise in demand for their mental health services, as students present more and more frequently with high levels of stress and anxiety.” Later on, the article mentions financial pressures at university: “Then, of course, there are the rising costs – students are keenly aware of the need to make their £27,000-plus course fees count, scared of failing to live up to expectations and anxious about graduate job prospects.” The entire article is concluded with: “Though Universities UK believes this is not a job for universities alone – and parents, schools, employers and the NHS all have parts to play – it is clear there is much work to be done, to equip young people with the tools they need to cope with pressure in the first place. And the confidence to seek help when they can no longer do so.”
University does bring with it an enormous amount of pressure and everyone has their own challenges and pressures from university as well as their wider lives. I believe that one thing that definitely does not help is feeling judged, and having your problems or your feelings ‘invalidated’ with phrases such as:
“Other people have it worse.”
“My problems are worse than yours.”
If someone opens up to you about their struggles, it has probably taken them a long time to build up that courage to admit that they’re struggling and to have their difficulties downplayed is absolutely destroying.
This time of the academic year is notorious for deadlines and an overwhelming amount of work from university and the anxiety of having to come back after Christmas and sit exams. It is stressful and it can have a very negative effect on a student’s mental health, which is why is vital to take care of yourself and those you care about. There are numerous ways you can look after yourself, even if it is simply giving yourself a break from university work for a day and just doing something you enjoy – either on your own or with a group of friends – go shopping, watch some films, pamper yourself, do something you love, get out for a walk on the beach or in the park. Yes, it’s important to study, but to be able to study effectively, you need to be in the right frame of mind to do so and that definitely involves giving yourself well-deserved breaks sometimes.
It is also so important to speak out and reach out for support if things are becoming increasingly overwhelming and you are struggling to cope, because there is no shame in it at all. At Swansea University, we have a variety of support networks, from talking to friends, to the Students’ Union Advice Centre and the University’s Wellbeing service.
A quote which resonates deeply with me personally and which I think will be a good way to summarise and finish this piece is:
“Nobody really knows how much anyone else is hurting. We could be standing next to someone who is completely broken and we’d never know. So, be kind always. With yourself, and others.”
If you want to watch this documentary, click here.