Students need more help to cope with debt

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TEACHERS and lecturers at universities and colleges are being targeted as part of a campaign to reduce the risk of suicide and mental breakdown among students worried about growing debts.

The Campaign for Awareness of Mental Illness Among Debtors (CAMIAD) has launched the initiative to coincide with the “seasonal stresses” which it believes are caused by post-Christmas cash shortages and upcoming university examinations.

To help students in crisis, CAMIAD is calling for academic staff to learn how to recognise students with underlying mental health issues or even suicidal tendencies.

Campaign founder Ian Williamson said: “Where problems of this kind are detected, their lecturers and teachers would be taught how to bring matters out in to the open with the student concerned and how to signpost them on for help and treatment.

“Our workshop training sessions are designed for any professional – such as accountants, solicitors and insolvency practitioners – who has face-to-face contact with individuals faced with overwhelming debt.

“This is especially relevant for students faced with the repayment of massive student loans so we believe it is of paramount importance that their lecturers and teachers are targeted by our campaign.”

The risks to students’ mental health when faced with growing debt were highlighted in a case in July 2011, when a young student took his own life.

The inquest into the death of Toby Thorn, from Penzance in Cornwall, found that the 23-year-old committed suicide because of the pressures of a £3,000 bank overdraft and a £5,000 student loan. He left a suicide note written on the back of a letter from his bank.

The CAMIAD initiative to extend the training workshops to lecturers and teachers has been welcomed by Mental Wealth UK, a Leeds-based student-led charity launched in 2010 to promote positive wellbeing on university and college campuses around the country.

The charity’s development officer, Roise Tressler, said: “There is a great deal of pressure on students at this time of the year with both financial worries after Christmas and the onset of the exam season and this initiative by CAMIAD is a valuable and timely addition to the services that already exist to help students.”

The intensive one-day workshop, for small discussion-style groups of up to 15 people, has been designed for CAMIAD by mental health professional Nigel Crompton, head of service development with Cheshire and Wirral Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (CWP).

He said professionals who had personal contact with debtors had a general duty of care to act if they felt someone was at risk of taking their own life – or even threatening the lives of others.

Where there were clear indications that someone had mental health problems, he said a GP was almost always the best way to access the most appropriate, effective and timely help.

“It is also good to seek some support by enlisting the help of a colleague, family or friend. But if it is believed that someone is at real risk of killing themselves, there is a duty to act,” he added.

CAMIAD is drawing up a programme of one-day workshops across the UK throughout 2013.

Statistics show that only 25 per cent of all suicide victims in the UK are known to mental health services and men are three times more like to take their own lives than women.

One in every 11 people in the UK is reported to be in debt or arrears, equating to eight per cent of the population.

In comparison, 25 per cent of all people with mental health problems reported they were in debt or in arrears and more than a third of people assessed after self-harming had a debt problem.