Content note: this article contains detailed discussion of depression, suicide, and mentions of self-harm

From November to June of this year, I was suffering from numerous mental health problems that compromised my safety and academic work. I struggled with severe depression and anxiety, as well as having suicidal thoughts and impulses that had suddenly emerged. On a few lucky occasions, I managed to talk to friends who calmed me down until I had ridden through the distress, but there were many times when I had to deal with these thoughts alone, especially during lockdown.

I was diagnosed with depression, and I am also in the process of getting assessed by a psychiatric team, which may uncover more problems that I have been struggling with in the last year. When I received a notification from my college that I would have to self-isolate with my corridor at the end of June, I reached a breaking point. Knowing that I would not be able to handle being alone with my increasingly troubling thoughts, I overdosed. Fortunately, with the aid of college porters and fellow students, I was taken to hospital and able to be treated in time.

“My tutor told me that I should ‘write an article’ about ... [my struggles with] managing my suicidal impulses”

I have since graduated and am now living at home. Most people left university with happy memories of graduation and end of year parties; I left the day after my suicide attempt. I will always have bittersweet memories of my college and the people that let me down. Over the course of the year, I had told three different members of my college — my tutor, the senior tutor, and my DoS — that I had urges to hurt myself. Their responses were apathetic at best and unsympathetic at worst. I remember my DoS coldly responding that I should ‘forget about it, it’s in the past’ and to just focus on my exams. My tutor told me that I should ‘write an article’ about my problems when I told him how much I struggled with managing my suicidal impulses when locked down at Cambridge in Michaelmas term. Students who express distressing thoughts, namely the urge to harm themselves or others, are supposed to be referred to a university secondary care service via a college mental health advisor; this did not happen to me. I asked my senior tutor to follow up on why my tutor did not provide me with this type of support, and he promised to get back to me with what happened. He never did.

“I did feel dismissed by senior members of my college”

By no means is it Cambridge or Fitzwilliam’s fault that I developed these mental health conditions. I have come to terms with the fact that my problems are the result of complex experiences I have faced throughout my life, as well as other potentially arbitrary factors. However, I did feel dismissed by senior members of my college, and their responses did nothing to assuage my growing sense of paranoia that no one cared for me at university. It certainly didn’t help that the college had procedures on how to deal with vulnerable students, yet no one in my case seemed incentivised to refer me to these services.

There were also issues with the college failing to follow up on concern forms that were submitted by the Disability Department Service that I receive support from. On a couple of occasions, my mentor tried to submit these forms so that I could receive support from the college, but I didn’t get any follow up. Instead of a follow-up meeting, I received a disciplinary meeting on some posters I had put on my window when I was in a dissociative state.


Mountain View

Racial profiling in the Cambridge classroom

The worst thing that my college did, though, was in the aftermath of my suicide attempt. When the porters knew about my drug overdose, they did everything to keep me safe and comfortable until the ambulance arrived. They also contacted my tutor, who sent me an email inquiring about my welfare while I was at the hospital. But no one thought to call my dad about what had happened to me and that I was in hospital. I don’t know whose responsibility it is to call parents or guardians in emergency situations but someone failed in this duty. And it was left to my dad to jump through several hoops to contact my tutor and find out what had happened, making a distressing experience even worse.

It’s been nearly three months since my overdose. In many ways, my condition has improved. My outlook on life isn’t as bleak as it was before, my mood is more stable, and my relationships have improved. However, I still carry emotional shards from my experience, which I have yet to fully recover from. My time at Cambridge will always be tarnished because of this and because of how callously college staff treated me when I was at my most vulnerable. I hope that my story will incentivise students to hold colleges to account and for staff to be more proactive with regard to vulnerable students. If I hadn’t been found in time, I would have been another statistic in Cambridge’s long list of student suicides; that’s not how I want this story to end, for myself or for any other student that attends Cambridge.

If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, the following organisations provide support and resources: