Researchers claim that the suicide rate among UK students is higher than among the general population of their age group.
The Hong Kong based researchers analysed figures for student suicides between 2007 and 2016 and said that, between that time, student suicide rates increased by 56%.
The findings are to be presented next month at the International Suicide Prevention Conference in New Zealand.
Previously, it has often been argued that suicide rates for students have been lower than the general population, but the researchers say there no longer seems to be this “protective effect against suicide”.
In 2016, the suicide rate for male students was 15.7 per 100,000 people, while for male non-students aged 20-24 it was 14.8 per 100,000 people. For female students, the suicide rate was six per 100,000 people, while for female non-students aged 20-24 it was 5.7 per 100,000.
The 2016 figures showed 146 student suicides, the highest in records going back to 2001. Between 2001 and 2007, there had been a pattern of falling numbers, but since then numbers have tended to rise.
The figures do not specify the type of “student”, whether at university or some other form of study.
Also, the suicide rates have been consistently higher among male students, but the research shows there has been a particular increase among female students.
Suicide rates have been consistently higher among male students, but the research shows there has been a particular increase among female students
Dr Raymond Kwok, of the Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention, at Hong Kong University, told the BBC: “Between 2012 and 2016, there is a significant trend in rising suicides for UK female students, with the exception of those in Scotland.”
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) also commented to the BBC that this data “cannot be used to ascertain the risk of suicide among students” as “year-to-year differences could reflect change in the population of students across time as opposed to change in the risk of suicide.”
The ONS says it is currently working on developing “a robust method for understanding the risk of suicide among certain kinds of students”.
Edward Pinkney, who has tracked student suicide data and co-authored the analysis, also commented to the BBC: “Concerns about students’ mental health have been increasing since the economic recession, but until now there has been no comprehensive analysis of UK student suicide data.
“This is the first time we can conclusively say that as far as suicide is concerned, there is a real problem in higher education.”
Concerns about students’ mental health have been increasing since the economic recession, but until now there has been no comprehensive analysis of UK student suicide data
— Edward Pinkney
A report published in autumn showed the numbers of students disclosing mental health problems had increased fivefold in a decade.
Tom Madders, director of communications at YoungMinds, told the Huffington Post: “The reasons for feeling suicidal are complicated and multiple, but it’s crucial that a young person struggling with their mental health is able to reach out before they reach crisis point.
“With NHS services often badly overstretched, it’s important that universities are able to offer early support to students who need it, and we also need the Government to start looking seriously how the mental health needs of 18-25 year olds, including students, can be met.”
Sir Anthony Seldon, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Buckingham and a campaigner on student well-being reiterated that more needed to be done for student wellbeing by universities.
He told the BBC: “Student suicide rates and emotional distress levels could be reduced at university if we acted differently.
“More support in transitions, better tutoring and early warning, more peer to peer support, an enhanced sense of belonging, would all enhance wellbeing and reduce risk.
“We are obsessed by reactive policy once students hit the bottom of the waterfall; we need to be putting preventative policies in place to prevent them ever tipping over the edge.”