By Georgiana Scott, Investigations Editor
On International Mental Health Awareness day, James Cox, former Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Bristol West and founder of ‘Zero Suicide Bristol’ sat down with University of Bristol students for a transparent talk and informal discussion about student suicide.
Post-graduate University of Bristol alumni, James, began by candidly sharing the issues that personally affected his mental health while studying at University. These included his recreational use of cannabis, lack of contact hours with lecturers/tutors and a seemingly perpetual feeling of isolation, something several students said resonated with their current University experience.
His honest account of his five-year battle with depression shadowing his time at university and his inside knowledge of the mental wellbeing and counselling services demonstrated a refreshing understanding of the deep-rooted issues that continue to lie within them.
'Universities like Bristol are spending an enormous amount of money on a system that doesn’t address the issue'. James Cox, Liberal Democrat candidate
He disclosed his idea of an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) committed to combatting student suicide and mental health. It would involve the convening of members of the House of Commons, the NHS, various University representatives, and the world’s experts in finding mental health solutions.
Alongside the ongoing mission to get student mental health on the parliamentary agenda, the end goal would be to create a framework that would ‘ensure there are minimum standards, in terms of maximum waiting times for counselling, the number of professors trained in mental health and ensuring some parameters of harmonisation across all UK Universities.’
Bristol University adopts emergency contact system to tackle suicide crisis:— Zero Suicide Bristol (@ZeroSuicideBS) August 5, 2019
Last month, Zero Suicide Bristol met with representatives from the University of Bristol to discuss a new suicide prevention framework for the university. (1/5) pic.twitter.com/TYruyfaXZz
He said that, currently, ‘Universities like Bristol are spending an enormous amount of money on a system that doesn’t address the issue’. James explained his conviction that tackling student mental health needs to come from an ‘evidence-based approach’ where research is conducted, and solutions are found in congruence with a continuous reassessment of what is working and what is not.
Acknowledging the scale of his mission, James said that committing to a ‘Zero Student-Suicide pledge’ would require a recognition of the ‘student suicide epidemic’ from all major political parties - ‘It’s not just going to be the LibDems that find a solution, it is going to take everyone to come together, engage in a cross-party effort and the institutions need to be willing to do the work’.
‘I think student suicides at places like the University of Bristol would have been on our parliamentary agenda, but Brexit has just become such a black hole for everything'.James Cox
While Universities do not need to be providing an NHS level of suicide prevention James spoke of the small steps that would be a starting point to achieving the ‘Zero-suicide pledge’ set out by Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk earlier this year.
James ended the discussion by sharing his frustration that Brexit has become a major distraction for parliament and the public. He said: ‘I think student suicides at places like the University of Bristol would have been on our parliamentary agenda, but Brexit has just become such a black hole for everything whether it be climate change, school funding, homelessness, mental health – so many issues have just been lost in that void’.
However, it should be remembered that if a student suicide focused APPG made it to parliament, they would not have any legitimate power in policy-making but would be influential and this is also not to be underestimated.
For now, James is continuing to keep a dialogue, specifically about the mental health of University students open, gradually diminishing the stigma surrounding it and urging for immediate changes in flawed systems that are potentially costing lives.
If you are concerned about someone, or need help yourself, please contact Samaritans on 116 123. Other student support services include Young Minds, Nightline, Papyrus, Student Minds and Off the Record. The University Wellbeing Services are signposted on their website.
Featured: Epigram / Georgiana Scott
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