Presentation of the cheque to Suicide Prevention Foundation 113 Photo: S.S.R.-N.U.

Student association taking action for suicide prevention

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More than 2600 euros has been collected by student association S.S.R.-N.U. for the Suicide Prevention Foundation 113. “Our aim is to make the subject which can be discussed, because there is still a taboo surrounding it, while the number of suicides among young people is increasing,” says Vice-President Dorine van der Lelie.

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Suicide Prevention Foundation 113 (Dutch website ed.) is a foundation that allows people to call anonymously 24 hours a day when they are struggling with suicidal thoughts. The foundation also offers help if you want to help someone who has these kinds of thoughts. Figures from the foundation show that five people die in the Netherlands every day due to suicide. Although the total number has remained stable since 2013, there is an increase in suicide among young people. All the more reason for student association S.S.R.-N.U. to start a discussion on the heavy subject of suicide and put it at the heart of their GoedeDoelenTijd (Time for Charities), which took place the first two weeks of December. On Monday January 21, they handed over the cheque to foundation 113, with a total amount of 2638 euros and 18 cents.

“Because we are such a small association, we were pleasantly surprised with this and so was Foundation 113”, says Vice-President Dorine van der Lelie, “we expected to raise around 1000 euros.” S.S.R.-N.U. has about 160 active members. Three years ago, such a fundraising event was held within the association last, she continues, “and we decided as a board that we wanted to do it again. Through a Facebook poll, where the members had a choice of three charities, they voted for foundation 113 with a significant majority.”

Fund raising
By means of student-like actions, such as raising the beer price (whereby the extra amount went to the charity), a 24-hour drinks and an auction, the amount was raised. “With the auction, we have collected the largest part. We have auctioned beer packages and tours at breweries, but also rare association objects and dates with board members. One board member even had their hair dyed blue. “But, with such a heavy subject as suicide, it could not all be student like and playful. A volunteer from foundation 113 also gave a personal lecture to emphasize the serious side of the matter.”

"When it became clear that we were going for this goal, we wanted to deal with it seriously and make the topic open to discussion. You see that the problem among young people increases and that it is present in the environment of students.” The foundation 113 can confirm this: in 2017, over one and a half times more teenagers aged 10 to 20 died of suicide than in the previous years. A small increase can also be seen among 20 and 30-year-olds. Evita Bloemheuvel of Foundation 113 does not have an explanation. “But in the conversations that are held here, the recurring topics are mainly high workloads, a lot of stress, the student loan system, burn-outs and depression. Young people feel that they have to perform well on all fronts, which means they also get a lot of choice stress. And that is fuelled by social media”, she says.

Greater trend
This high workload and the ‘burnout epidemic’ is a well-known theme by now, both among students, PhD candidates and scientists. For example, WOinAction protests emphasized this trend, a special UU Taskforce for Student Welfare was set up in April last year and, for example, the University Council held specific meetings at the end of last year on the theme of stress, in order to create awareness and to avoid burn-outs.

Last year, Foundation 113 Suicide Prevention was also one of the two charities to which the proceeds of the RAG charity week (in Dutch, ed.) were donated; ‘The biggest cause of death among students is suicide’, can be read on the website. During this ‘raise-and-give-week’, various student, study and sports clubs raise money for charity.

The National Chamber of Societies, the umbrella organization including 47 student sociability associations in the Netherlands, sees the growing problems. The organisation has decided that this year for the first time they consciously want to focus on student well-being. According to Iris van Noort, current chairman of the organisation, many associations have also included this as a policy point at the beginning of the year. For example, they have actively appointed a confidential contact person or a person who is linked to a qualified person such as a general practitioner or psychologist, where students can easily go to.

“This subject certainly lives among students” she explains. “But it is still a taboo among young people to talk about your mental condition or problems." According to her, the close friendships that are formed within student associations and the social control that goes hand in hand with these friendships ensure an earlier identification of problems. “And a student association is a place where you meet older students who have the same (study) problems, so they can help you.”

In addition to S.S.R.-N.U., the Utrecht association U.V.S.V. also explains the focus on student well-being. This year, they introduced counsellors to the association that have a background in psychology, but are also familiar with the association life. “The position will be held by both alumni and externals”, says present chairman Laura Walsteijn. “We hope to offer our members the opportunity to talk to someone in a low-threshold way.” For Foundation 113, the Leiden association Minerva will also raise money this year, as they did on December 20 with a large cheese fondue dinner.

Brand awareness
These campaigns make Foundation 113 happy, of course, but not only because of the amount that is being raised: “It is also very good for the brand awareness” says Bloemheuvel, "so that people can find the helplines." The most important advice from the suicide prevention foundation is to make the subject something which can be discussed. “Just dare to ask people if they ever think of suicide if you feel that they are not doing well. It is very scary, but can help a lot. It is not as if you give someone the idea. Just begin those conversations. You can ask what happens in someone's head, you can ask if you can help someone or you can refer them to a doctor.”

Need help yourself? The national Suicide Prevention Foundation 113 is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, via 0900 0113 or via the online chat.

 

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