University suicides: why are young people so at risk?

Alcohol - how does it affect suicide risk?

It is hard to ignore the impact of alcohol. Excessive and habitual drinking is associated with increased suicide risk, and in the susceptible may prompt attempts. A known depressant, alcohol will lower mood and remove rationality in the acute sense. Binge drinking is worse still and is the major pattern of consumption within universities. It is linked with increased suicide risk and used in risk estimation within hospital departments for recommendation of sectioning. In the context of such radical life changes, it is hardly surprising that it may factor in increased rates.

To blame this phenomenon entirely on alcohol would be misleading and short-sighted. Alcohol is like a bullet but we need a gun. The combination of exam stress, predisposing depression, social isolation and physical health problems have all been implicated in increasing individual risk. These added stresses on individual hundreds of miles from their usual support network are understandably concerning. It is a rational appraisal of these factors together that allow us to estimate risk. But for the young student locked in their room, silently suffering, this yields little use.

Let's keep talking - and sharing

The way forward is communication. Universities must continue to offer support and easy access, but it is also the responsibility of young people to accept that suicide is a real risk and present in their course mates. Early recognition of a struggling colleague and compassionate conversation could be the first step in saving a life. My suggestion is encouraging students to talk and empower them to seek help. I remember feeling alone in a crowded room, life passing in blur, looking at everyone else coping and wondering why I couldn't. If only I had known I wasn't alone.

We have all been there. So let's share what we learned.

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