Jo, a member of the Student Wellbeing Team, talks about World Suicide Prevention Day on 10th September 2016
The World Health Organisation estimates that over 800,000 people die by suicide each year – that’s one person every 40 seconds. Up to 25 times as many again make a suicide attempt. The tragic ripple effect means that there are many, many more people who have been bereaved by suicide or have been close to someone who has tried to take their own life. And this is happening in spite of the fact that suicide is preventable.
Suicide is the second most common cause of death in young adults and the incidence is rising, particularly amongst young men. Yet most people who attempt suicide are ambivalent about killing themselves – frequently what they seek is to put a stop to unbearable feelings or a situation that seems intolerable.
Someone who is suicidal may well be feeling frightened, trapped, hopeless, helpless, confused and distressed – and desperate to escape from their suffering rather than actually wanting to die. But at times like this, suicide can sometimes feel like the only way out.
Thoughts about suicide are very common – the thought will probably cross the mind of the majority of people at some point in their lives.
A survey into student stress and suicide rates conducted by Don Foster MP stated that between 1983 and 1994 “the total number of suicides … has risen fourfold”. This same survey indicated that young males were four times more likely to kill themselves than their female colleagues and that mature students were another particularly vulnerable group.
Why would a student attempt to kill themselves?
For some students suicide will follow a period of depression while for others it is likely to be an impulsive act, perhaps triggered by a traumatic experience, for example the death of a loved one, or by an upsetting event which may be seen as the ‘final straw’.
Some of the feelings and experiences that may contribute to someone feeling suicidal include:
- Loneliness – this may include the feeling that there is no-one there and that no-one really cares or will notice whether the person lives or dies. The suicidal person may feel totally alone and isolated.
- Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness – where the person feels that no matter what they do, nothing seems to get better, and that no-one is able to help.
- Feelings of worthlessness – the person may feel that they will never amount to anything, that they are not worth caring about, or that any interest shown in them by others is unjustified. Such people are likely to have very low self-esteem, and to not readily accept compliments or praise.
- Depression – in those who are clinically depressed, their perceptions of themselves, others and their situation are usually unduly negative. Many of the above feelings are not only common in those suffering with depression, but are often felt to be unquestionably true.
- Plans falling through – especially where the goals have considerable personal importance – e.g. not settling well at university, the break-up of an important relationship, or a student not achieving their academic goals. As a result the student may feel inadequate, a failure, ashamed, unlovable…
- Inappropriately high levels of stress – of the kind experienced by those with exceptionally or unrealistically high personal or academic expectations. Students can easily come to feel stressed by academic demands and for some there will be times when the level of stress becomes unbearable. Some people can feel that their academic success is crucial to their personal identity, and if the former is under threat, their identity is also endangered.
- Anger – suicide can sometimes be seen as the act of someone who is very angry, perhaps even as an act of revenge (for example after the ending of a relationship).
- Alcohol and drugs – for some, a suicide attempt may be an impulsive act when under the influence of alcohol or drugs. In this state a person may seriously underestimate the risks of their actions, and be more vulnerable to the above feelings.
- A history of mental or physical illness.
- Feeling overwhelmed – when problems in a number of areas of life occur at the same time – for example academic problems, a family crisis, and the ending of a relationship – the sense of pain may be overwhelming.
Connect, Communicate, Care
‘Connect, communicate, care’ is the theme of the 2016 World Suicide Prevention Day. These three words are at the heart of suicide prevention.
On September 10th, join with others around the world who are working towards the common goal of preventing suicide. Check in on someone you may be concerned about and start a caring conversation with them, asking them how they are doing.
If you are concerned that a student may be suicidal
If you are concerned that another student may be suicidal you can contact The Counselling, Health and Wellbeing Service on 029 2087 4966 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Whilst the Counselling, Health and Wellbeing Service is not an emergency service, a staff member should be able to see the student quickly (on the day of contact), in these circumstances. You may wish to contact the service to alert us to your concerns and involvement.
Here are some other suggestions that may help if you are talking with somebody and you are concerned about their safety:Email:
- Asking if a person feels suicidal is very unlikely to put the idea into their head, and they may feel relieved to talk.
- Take the student and what they say seriously, and try to understand their perspective of the situation. The student may be able to tell you what they need and who might help.
- Discuss with the student who else might help: tutors, parents, relatives and friends might create a supportive network; the student’s GP or the Counselling, Health and Wellbeing Service may well also be appropriate. Try to discover what might make a difference without imposing your solutions on the situation.
- Offer practical help towards problem solving – e.g. speaking to a tutor or Support Services about extending an academic deadline.
- Don’t over-reach your own limits of time or expertise. Self-care and looking after your own wellbeing is also extremely important.
- Do not take sole responsibility for the situation. Sensitively indicate that you are concerned enough to arrange for further help, even if it means breaking a confidence. A student’s GP will be able to consider whether medication could help and can access further medical or psychiatric support if needed.
In an emergency… call an ambulance / emergency services or the GP.
Time to Change
Cardiff University has signed the Time to Change anti-stigma Campaign pledge, committing to being part of the fight to end mental health stigma and to encouraging the student population to talk about their concerns to one another as part of a supportive community.
The Counselling, Health and Wellbeing Service also hosts a team of Wellbeing Champions – student volunteers who support other students to look after their wellbeing. The Champions aim to provide wellbeing advice out-and-about on campus, by offering a non-judgemental listening ear, providing advice and information, promoting the 5 Ways to Wellbeing, and signposting to further support.
Contact us in Counselling Health & Wellbeing
If you are experiencing any kind of emotional distress, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us. The Counselling, Health and Wellbeing Service can offer support to anybody experiencing any sort of difficulty, however big or small.
We offer booked appointments via our online referral questionnaire, in which our friendly, approachable staff can offer you non-judgmental support in a safe and confidential space. We also offer a daily Wellbeing Walk-In Service (3pm-3.45pm: Monday–Friday and Wednesday mornings: 9.30am-10.15am at the Student Support Centre at 50 Park Place; and Wednesday afternoons 3pm-3.45pm at Cardigan House, Heath Park Campus).
If you are worried that you are experiencing physical symptoms that may be affecting your health, we strongly advise you to make a GP appointment to discuss this. If you do not already have a GP, please contact NHS Wales on 0845 46 47 or check out their website to view all of your GP options. The University also has its own GP Practice – Park Place Surgery for those in their catchment area.
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Counselling, Health & Wellbeing Team.
Your Student Life, Supported.
The Student Support Centre has a range of services dedicated to helping students make the most of their time at University, including: Advice & Money, Careers & Employability, Counselling, Health & Wellbeing, Disability & Dyslexia and International Student Support.
The Student Support Centres are located at 50 Park Place, Cathays Campus and Cardigan House, Heath Park Campus. For further details of services, events, opening times and more find us on the University Intranet.