News Writer Charlie O’Keeffe reports on the University’s handling of suicide prevention measures

Written by Charlie O'Keeffe

Content Warning: discussion of suicide

The University of Birmingham has not yet adopted nationwide guidance on tackling student suicide. The strategy, intended to create ‘suicide-safer Universities,’ was published in 2018 by Universities UK in partnership with suicide prevention charity Papyrus. It called attention to alarming numbers: from 2016-17 at least 95 students took their own lives, suicide is the biggest killer of young adults, and only one in three people who take their lives are known to mental health services

The 2018 guidance said it enabled institutions to ‘understand student suicide’ as well as help them intervene to prevent suicides, and respond in the event that they do happen. Universities were told in the guide that the measures it contained could ‘save a young person’s life.’

Despite not implementing the guidance, the University has stated that there are measures in place for prevention, intervention, and postvention.

We take very seriously our approach to the potential of a death by suicide amongst our community

A freedom of information request has revealed that the University of Birmingham has not put the guidance in place, although it is in the process of developing a strategy. The University hopes to finalise its own new approach in the first quarter of 2022. Although lacking a specific strategy, University bosses have stated that the necessary measures are in place to approach student suicide. This includes a network of support services and first responders who receive Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) from Papyrus, the charity that was involved in creating the 2018 guidance. There is a 24/7 year-round mental health support service (telephone and text). The University has also stated that these measures are under continued review.

Redbrick reached out to the University for comment, and a University of Birmingham spokesperson said:

‘We take very seriously our approach to the potential of a death by suicide amongst our community and, whilst not framed within a single policy document, we have a wide range of measures in place in relation to suicide prevention, intervention and postvention.  First responders at the University receive [Papyrus] ASIST Suicide Prevention training and the University has its own trainers to deliver this. Mechanisms for supporting vulnerable students and those at risk are embedded in our support and escalation procedures that underpin our approach to supporting student mental health and wellbeing. The University provides an extensive network of support services, including a 24/7 year-round mental health support service (telephone and text), and we work very closely with specialist providers and agencies within the city of Birmingham.  Leading academics from the University’s Institute of Mental Health deliver research-informed guidance that informs practice to respond to suicidal behaviours and suicide prevention.  We continue to keep all of these measures under review and are also developing a suicide safer strategy to bring all of these elements together.’

If you have been affected by the issues in this article, support can be found here.

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