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Five student suicides suspected in one year

Photo credit: www.york.ac.uk
Photo credit: www.york.ac.uk
Photo credit: www.york.ac.uk

There are suspected to have been five suicides at the University of York in just one year, with this shocking figure reigniting the controversy over whether there are enough support structures in place for students struggling with their mental health.

As reported in The Independent on Sunday 25th September, Saher Ahmad, 20, Daniel Pinfold, 23, Christopher Walsh, 21, and Azusa Nose, 23, all tragically took their own lives during their studies. A fifth case, suspected to be a suicide, is currently awaiting the results of an inquest.

The mother of Saher Ahmad, Dr Fauzia Zaheer, has spoken out about how she believes her daughter was failed by the university. “I feel she was not given enough support after the first attempt,” she told The Sunday Times. Miss Ahmad was given only one Open Door counselling session following her first suicide attempt, which took place a month before her death.

This inauspicious news comes at a time when there has been a great deal of pubic criticism of how the University of York has handled the crisis in student mental health, with much of it concentrated on the long waiting times and impersonality of the Open Door Team. Popular student newspaper The Tab recently rated York the worst university in the country at supporting students struggling with mental illness. The article said that this reflected “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”.

In response, as was reported in The Yorker last week, the University announced that it planned to invest up to half a million pounds in improving the provisions made for student mental health. In particular, a substantial amount of the budget is planned to go towards providing the Open Door Team with more resources to respond to the increasing demand for student mental health support.

An official spokesperson from the University of York commented:

“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.

This includes expanding our in-house counselling service (the Open Door Team), with the addition of two new members of staff, to ensure that those who need urgent appointments can be seen very quickly.

The Open Door Team provides emotional and psychological support for students alongside a number of other support structures. These include our College System, the Chaplaincy team, Student Unions welfare and advice support and peer led support such as Nightline and Night Safe. The on campus medical centre also offers a stay and wait service, online consultation and weekend appointments, and we are about to build new and expanded facilities for our on-campus GP practice and their associated health care professionals.

The investment in improving our mental health provision also includes improved support delivered online and by telephone, additional ‘mental health first aider’ training, and funding student-led initiatives such as Nightline. Our Student’s Union is also leading a social media campaign to promote positive use of digital platforms and help create a supportive online community.”

Students at the University of York experiencing suicidal thoughts are urged to contact their local Accident and Emergency (call 999) or the Samaritans (call 116 123 (UK) or +44 (0)8457 909 090 (International, or if using an internal phone)).

It was originally reported by The Yorker that there was a City of York Council investigation planned into these suicides: however, this has been proven to be false. We had based this information on articles by The Independent and The Sunday Times, who had wrongly reported this. As a result, this article has now been amended to reflect the fact that no council investigation is planned, and that nobody is looking at these deaths as a collective. We would like to apologise to the University of York and to our readers for the original mistake.