Suicide rates high among post-secondary students

Courtney Dickson, Wellness Columnist Ω

Courtney Dickson, Arts & Entertainment Editor Ω

Courtney Dickson, Wellness Columnist Ω

I have a lot of friends who have never been a post-secondary student. Any time someone in university mentions how stressed they are about exams or the amount of debt they’re in, my non-student friends respond with some stupid remark about how easy students have it and how we’re just a bunch of whiners. As you might agree, that stress is real and it’s tough to deal with. So tough, in fact, that some students choose to “opt-out.”

I read a story a few months ago in Maclean’s about UBC student Joshua Beharry who attempted suicide after struggling with depression. One of the things causing him such distress was his unhappiness with the program he was enrolled in (computer science). Students have stress, and we often don’t know what to do about it, and in a time of despair, there may seem like only one option.

In 2009, Statistics Canada found that suicide was the ninth-leading cause of death for Canadians of all ages and genders. For people aged 15 to 34, the typical age of a university student, it was the second-leading cause of death, preceded by accidents. That year, 202 deaths among people aged 15 to 19 (the age of students just starting university) were due to suicide, and accounted for nearly a quarter of the total deaths in that age group. So, if one of us is going to die young, there’s a pretty good chance we’ll go by suicide. That is staggering.

What really bothers me about these statistics is I think that a lot of (I’m not saying all) suicides are preventable. What are educational institutions doing to prevent such tragedies from happening?

Universities across the country have been lobbying, some successfully, to incorporate a fall reading week into their schedules, largely due to demands made by student unions. TRUSU president Dylan Robinson said that TRUSU has approached TRU with the idea of a fall reading break in the past, but the union decides to leave student mental health care up to the wellness department because “it’s wellness’s mandate.” Meanwhile, the student unions at the University of Alberta and the University of Western Ontario are both pursuing a fall reading week to improve student mental health.

Does that bother you? That, before worrying about mental health, our students’ union is focused on having outdoor movie nights with free popcorn or concerts to end the rise in tuition? It bugs me.

World Suicide Prevention Day was last Tuesday, Sept. 10. The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention and the Mental Health Commission of Canada partnered up to promote “hope and resiliency” against suicide, and aimed to give individuals and families the tools to maintain mental well-being in order to prevent suicide.

The Canadian Association of College and University Student Services (CACUSS) and the Canadian Mental Health Association teamed up to create an action plan for post-secondary institutions to improve student mental health. The document asks a variety of questions of institutions, including “To what degree does the institution believe that it is responsible for promoting student mental health as a requirement for integrated student development and learning?”

TRU did not choose to run an event around suicide prevention, however Chelsea Corsi, campus wellness coordinator said there are plans to run a suicide intervention workshop in the future. Dates for this have not been confirmed.

Be an active student and ask yourself if you think your school is doing enough to help its students manage mental health issues on campus, and prevent tragedies from happening as a result of the pressure we face. It’s an essential service that students require, and it’s something TRU needs to take more seriously.