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University of York’s record on mental health has been described as ‘abysmal’ as authorities look into the suicides of as many as five students in one year.

According to The Sunday Times this is thought to be the highest number recorded in a single year at a British university.

Saher Ahmad, 20, Daniel Pinfold, 23, Christopher Walsh, 21, and Azusa Nose, 23, all took their own lives while studying at the university. An inquest into a fifth suspected suicide is pending.

City of York Council is working collaboratively with partners across the city including the university, the NHS and Public Health England in response to the deaths.

In May the university released figures that half of all ambulance call outs to campus so far this year have been to incidents of attempted suicide or self harm, compared with 32% last year and only 14% in 2014.

Bottom of the table

On Saturday (September 25), university news website The Tab released the results of its 2016 Mental Health Rankings.

York came at the bottom of the table. The website said that this ranking “is a result of abysmal student satisfaction – just 27 per cent of students who told the university that they had a mental health problem said they had found it had helped them”.

The Tab said that the university scored poorly on four out of the six financial measures, highlighting “previous underinvestment” in the counselling service.

Heslington Hall at York University. Photograph © simoneseverini on Wikipedia
Heslington Hall at York University. Photograph © simoneseverini on Wikipedia

But it also received one of the highest outreach scores, “meaning that people feel comfortable telling the university they have a mental health problem, even if they aren’t necessarily happy with how it treats them”.

Melissa Galvin-Cundill, 22, a York student, told The Sunday Times she was not surprised by the results of the survey.

Of her experience of seeking help from the university’s Open Door counselling service, she said: “I’m not really surprised York was rated worst. During the last session I was made to feel as if I was just wasting [the counsellor’s] time.”

‘Investing £500K’

York University told The Tab that it was “concerned the survey does not truly reflect the commitment and progress made in providing good mental health services at the university.

“The university is committed to ensuring all students can access good mental health services when they need them; this is demonstrated by further investment in the Open Door Team, enhanced online support and campaigns promoting student wellbeing and respectful use of social media.”

It also released this statement:

Promoting positive mental health is an important responsibility for universities, but also society as a whole.

Over the last six months, the University of York has undertaken a thorough review of mental health support in light of increased demand from students and some disruption to mental health provision in the city following the closure of Bootham Park hospital in late 2015.

As a result of that review the university made a decision in August this year to invest a further £500,000 in mental health care provision over the next three years to further enhance student support services and strengthen its community partnerships in promoting positive mental well-being.

Suicide prevention task group

City of York Council says it “takes the issue of suicide and preventing deaths by suicide very seriously”.

A spokeswoman said:

The council has worked closely with the University of York and other statutory and voluntary organisations.

This work has included helping to ensure appropriate support is available for students and staff who may have been affected by individual deaths or who may themselves who have been experiencing feelings of anxiety or distress – a response which is common place for any concerned organisation or community following an unexpected, premature death.

The council is part of York and North Yorkshire’s Suicide Prevention Task Group. “Part of this work, in line with national best practice, involves a suicide audit – reviewing deaths over recent years which have been determined at inquest to be suicide together with partners,” said the spokeswoman.

“This work will inform some of the recommendations detailed within the strategy.”

The task group is hosting a conference in October which “will launch an ambition for York to be a Suicide-Safer community and part of a Mental Health – Friendly County”.

How to keep safe

Anyone having thoughts of suicide please tell someone who you can trust as soon as possible. If you think you may be at risk or are concerned about someone else take action to keep yourself or that person safe:

  • Phone the Samaritans 24 hour free helpline on 116123 or email jo@samaritans.org for confidential, non-judgmental emotional support for people experiencing feelings of distress, hopelessness or despair, including those which could lead to suicide
  • Ring 111 to access mental health services – 24 hours a day, 365 days a year
  • Contact your general practitioner (GP) and tell them how you feel. If you do not have a GP or do not know your GP’s telephone number contact 111

If you believe you or someone else is at serious and immediate risk then dial 999.

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