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Stay on the Line! A Helpline Worker Talks About Young Suicide

British students are experiencing a surge in anxiety, depression and mental breakdowns, according to The Guardian. Suicide Prevention Adviser Helen Burns says the beginning of the term is the worst.

Burns works at Papyrus, a charity working to prevent young suicide in the UK. Her job consists of answering calls on HopelineUK, the Papyrus suicide prevention helpline. She says Papyrus receives an increase in calls at the beginning of the academic year.

Burns explains to Roar that “September and October can be busy due to the pressure of going back to school, college or university. Meeting new people, exam pressures and leaving home for the first time can all contribute to a person’s thoughts of suicide.

“Often, this transition back to academia can lead a person feeling completely overwhelmed and feeling as though they cannot cope – however, often they may be reluctant to get help in fear of being seen as a failure.”

The Office of National Statistics (ONS) reported that in the 12 months ending July 2017 for higher education students in England and Wales was 4.7 deaths per 100,000 students, which equates to 95 suicides, higher than those during prior years. Suicide proves to be especially prevalent among males.

All genders call the helpline

Burns says she talks to all genders – male, female, transgender and non-binary. “Suicidal behaviour is as prevalent in women as men, even though statistics show that there are more males who die by suicide. Women often can be more open, reaching out for support, than men.”

Likewise, Burns explains that the reasons people call the helpline are diverse: “There are many contributing factors as to why a young person may feel suicidal – these may include abuse, bereavement and bullying to name but a few.”

Last year, the staff at transgender children’s charity Mermaid wrote an open letter demanding gender diversity training should be made compulsory for UK police, doctors and teachers. Additionally, the charity called on the UK government to allow trans people of all ages to self-identify in order to lower suicide rates.

Burns tells Roar that many of the people calling the Papyrus helpline struggle with their gender identity. She says Papyrus “often hear from young people who are struggling with their gender identity or who are facing difficulties being accepted by family, friends or their community.”

University-aged students are not listened to

Though the past year has brought forward a significant amount of suicides in UK universities, and that the suicide rate in higher education students has increased, the ONS reports that students enrolled in higher education have significantly lower suicide rates than other people in the same age range. Burns fears that university-aged students are not listened to sufficiently.

According to Burns, Papyrus receive calls both from people struggling with suicidal thoughts, as well as what she calls ‘concerned others’. A ‘concerned other’ can be a parent, friend, teacher, work colleague, namely anyone who is worried about a person who is suicidal.

Papyrus receive the most calls from university-aged people, aged 19 to 25, but Burns tells Roar that most ‘concerned others’ call about young people between the age of 12 to 18. Burns thinks this could indicate that the former age category “are not being heard or listened to.”

National scandal

“When a young person is in pain and feels as though they are not being listened to, suicide can become an option to escape that pain,” she adds.

The Papyrus helpline is, according to Burns, busy. She thinks this is positive: “The very fact that we are a busy service indicates that more people are reaching out to help themselves, or to help others to stay safe from suicide.”

Roar has previously spoken to Ged Flynn, the CEO of Papyrus. At the time, he called the current state of mental health a national scandal.

“I would call it a national scandal rather than a crisis, and the scandal is that we do not talk about it when times get tough. It is still stigmatised to talk honestly about feeling down, we don’t even talk openly about death in general,” Flynn told Roar in September.

You can contact Papyrus UK by calling them on  0800 068 41 41, texting at 0778 620 9697, or emailing [email protected]. Go to to find out more if you or anyone you know are struggling with mental health issues.

You can contact the Samaritans by calling them for free from any phone on 116 123, or visiting to find details of your nearest branch if you or anyone you know are struggling with mental health issues.



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