More suicides among young adults: ‘The pandemic severely affected students’ mental health’

Student well-being was already a concern. But now it also turns out the number of suicides among young people was higher than ever in early 2021. Five questions to UG associate professor Diana Bergen, expert in suicide among young people.

In May, UKrant spoke to Van Bergen about the negative effect isolation has on young people. It later turned out that, compared to the same time the year before, more people between twenty and thirty years old had committed suicide in the first few months of 2021.

How did you feel about the news?

‘Unfortunately, it’s what I and my research group expected. We know the pandemic has severely affected students’ mental health. One in four young adults suffer from sombreness and depressive episodes. That’s a lot.’

The university has gone back to on-campus classes. What will this mean for students?

‘Last week, I supervised the introduction for the pedagogical sciences department. It included a few exercises that saw students talking to each other. They didn’t know each other, but everyone quickly struck up a conversation. I think they all really need to be back on campus.’

‘There’s also a group who prefer online classes. I don’t have any numbers to back me up, but I suspect that the students who aren’t doing well, who have trouble getting out of bed, are the ones watching classes online. That’s what makes it so complicated. The students who need physical contact the most might just be the ones who don’t come to class.’

What could be done to get them to come to class?

‘One thing that could work is to make on-campus seminars mandatory. I’m starting a large course next week and I’ve decided that the seminars will be on campus only. Hopefully that will inspire the students who’d normally only watch the video classes to actually show. Maybe they’ll appreciate the human contact.’

What can the university do?

‘At the pedagogical department, we use the buddy system: we match first-year students to senior students who stay in touch with them. This is for everyone, not just students who are having a hard time.’ 

‘What could also work, is to provide them with information on mental health: how does it work, how can you tell that you’re not doing great? A lot of it is connected to study stress and work stress. I’d love to implement this information session across all departments.’

What if someone has suicidal thoughts? What’s the best course of action?

‘A lot of people are afraid to ask if someone is thinking about suicide. They’re worried they’ll give them ideas. But that’s not true: for many people it’s an incredible feeling of relief to be allowed and able to talk about your feelings. Of course, I understand that it’s difficult to ask that question out of the blue. You have to practise asking it directly. The university could provide training for that.’

Sombre and/or lonely? You can talk to the students at All Ears, a free resource. All Ears can also help you find other resources in times of trouble.

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