Why do so many students commit suicide? was the title of an online article for The Independent last week.
For us lot who have been students recently or are currently, most of the stats and information about ‘the crisis going on in undergraduate pastoral care’ mentioned in said article will come as no surprise.
We have been in the fresher’s term binges, we have see the scars of self-harm, we have found our friends crumpled in a corner with the weight of the world on their shoulders. We have lived with or maybe suffer from, the crippling effects of depression. We are a generation who had to get used to this stuff from primary school age to be honest.
In the article a lot of “blame” or finger-pointing happens towards our education establishments and the lack of help and advice they offer to students in navigating life “well”. A suggestion of running “happiness lessons” through self-esteem classes as part of the national curriculum is being piloted in some schools in the UK currently. The hope is that young people will be prepared to make better choices as they grow up, and handle the inevitable hardships and breakdowns of life and the family nucleus that are so common in our society. If everyone had “happiness” lessons they wouldn’t want or need to get blind drunk, right?
The article doesn’t sit comfortably with me for a number of reasons. For starters, my parents are teachers and I get sick of seeing schools under-appreciated and underfunded, over-worked and blamed. Mum and dad have parented far more children than my siblings and I through their years of teaching, but that is going above and beyond the job description. The fundamental break-down in the family unit and local community means the schools are expected to hold it all together and teach our kids to be “happy” as well as their spellings. It’s too much.
I am also uncomfortable with the fact that universities alone are being told to do more for the welfare and mental-health of students. This is a gaping hole in our university structures, a huge need, that cannot be fulfilled by a system, a program, a big cheque. I believe it is for such a time as this that our local church families around the UK have something unique to offer. Genuinely, we can help serve and pastor thousands upon thousands of students on our local campuses, offering mentoring, a listening ear, a presence where people feel alone. Why not ask your Student’s Union how you and your local church can help this huge welfare need that no uni can meet or solve alone. The same goes for our schools.
What if us, as Jesus followers, the church, were deliberately placed by God near our campuses in order to work in community with the university to see student’s loved, protected and helped? What if we prayed and the stats on student suicides changed? What if we were always meant to go help those outside our congregations and friendship groups?