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A response to the tragic student deaths at our university

Reflecting on his own experiences with mental health problems, incoming Co-Editor in Chief Ed Southgate responds to the tragic news that three students are suspected to have taken their lives in just three weeks.

An article of this nature is never easy to write. It is never easy to know what to say, nor how to say it. Whilst this may be one of the hardest, if not the most personal, of articles I have written during my time at Epigram, it is certainly one of the most important.

Our university community has been shaken recently by the news that three students are believed to have taken their own lives within the space of just three weeks, with each death hitting us just as hard as the last.

This news hits me on a deeply personal level. As a sixth former, I came close to taking my life. Burdened by pressures to achieve highly, to discover who I am as a person, and to find meaning in my own life, I found it hard to see a future that did not have all colour removed from it.

I was fortunate enough to have had an amazing support network surrounding me, to bring me back from the edge and to show me that there was colour in my life and my future. With support from my friends, my family, and crucially the experienced and professionally-trained staff at both my Sixth Form and local mental health services, my life was saved.

Each time we hear of another tragic student death, I can hardly begin to express the pain I feel, the upset and the anger that burns within me. Although I did not know these individuals, nor the pain that they suffered, I do know how much it takes to be pushed into the darkness that makes you truly believe that there is no way out.

I feel upset, shocked, angry that these students did not have the support network that I did to bring them back. I mention above that I was ‘fortunate enough’ to have had a great support network which saved my life, but no-one’s life should be in the hands of ‘fortune’. Anyone who is suffering should be able to access support as soon as they may need it.

It is unforgivable to think that the necessary support was not there for these students. In the past, I have resisted seeking help when I have been struggling again whilst at University for fear that I will be taking a place on the already-long waiting lists from someone who may need it more. To think that other students may also be in this situation is unforgivable. To many, our Wardens and Deputy Wardens in our Halls of Residence provide the only sense of community and are the only friendly faces that we feel comfortable approaching whilst in first year. To think that their removal might restrict the personal quality to our Halls is also unforgiveable.

I should mention that Senior Tutors, personal tutors, and unit tutors are, in my experience, always there to support us and can be truly exceptional. They have made me feel that my mental health does matter, which has proven invaluable in making sure that I am comfortable talking to them whenever I struggle. I understand, however, that this is just my individual experience, and that this is devastatingly not the case for all students. Not all of our tutors are trained to deal with complex mental health issues, nor know who to send our students to if they are struggling. If we want to support our students, we must first have people in place who know how to support us.

Our university needs to ensure that support is there for us whenever we may need it. We must focus on preventative action, as opposed to reacting to situations in which we may be too late. We need to get rid of waiting lists completely so anyone who needs help can seek it, and we need our university to build and maintain personal relationships with the student body so that anyone who needs help feels comfortable seeking it. We need our university to show its students that it truly cares about us.

We come to University looking forwards the prospect of broadening our intellectual horizons, of meeting new people from all walks of life, of finding ourselves in a new independent environment. As exciting as this may be, the transition is not necessarily easy, it is not necessarily a straight forward path, and we must be supported in this.

The pain that these students must have been feeling is unimaginable. Our university must come together, in order to remember those students who have passed, and to ensure that no one else will suffer in silence. The forthcoming march for better mental health services will be a fitting tribute to this end.

Most people who are thinking of taking their own life have shown warning signs beforehand.
These can include becoming depressed, showing sudden changes in behaviour, talking about wanting to die and feelings of hopelessness.  These feelings do improve and can be treated.

If you are concerned about someone, or need help yourself, please contact the Samaritans on 116 123.

Other student support services include:
Young Minds 0808 802 5544
Papyrus 0800 068 41 41
Student Minds

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