Concerns raised over student suicide rates

Campaigners said they wanted to understand why there has been a rise (Chris Ison/PA) Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Concerns have been raised about suicide among university students as new figures show rates are higher than they were a decade ago.

Data released for the first time by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) also indicates significantly higher suicide rates for male students than their female peers.

Campaigners said they wanted to understand why there has been a rise, and who is most at risk.

Overall, there were 95 deaths in 2016/17, which equates to a rate of 4.7 deaths per 100,000 higher education students, the statistics show.

In 2006/07, there were 77 deaths, a rate of 3.8 per 100,000.

The experimental statistics, which cover England and Wales, do show that suicide rates among students have not risen consistently year on year.

For example, in 2013/14, there were 102 deaths, a rate of 5.1 per 100,000 students.

The rates for students are lower than those for the general population, the ONS said.

They also only cover those in higher education and not, for example, those in further education.

A breakdown shows that among male students, there were 61 deaths in 2016/17, a rate of 6.9 per 100,000, while for women there were 34, a rate of three per 100,000.

Samaritans chief executive Ruth Sutherland said: “All new data that gives us an insight into those who take their own lives is welcome.

“The sooner statistics are available, the more opportunity there is to target support and resources at those who may be at risk.

“These statistics show that students in higher education are not at an increased risk of suicide compared to the general population.

“But, we are concerned about the increase in suicides among students in recent years and would like to understand why this is happening and who is most at risk within this population.

“This data shows, for example, that around one in three students who die by suicide are female, whereas in the general population, this figure is one in four, but we don’t yet know why this is.”

She added that data about suicides can often be delayed by lengthy inquests, which means that deaths are not registers for months or even years.

“We believe there is an urgent need for more up-to-date and comprehensive data on deaths by suicide in the UK and we want to see this made a priority,” Ms Sutherland said.

Ged Flynn, chief executive of suicide prevention charity Papyrus, said: “We have to be careful about annual suicide statistics because we don’t always know at what time they are recorded in relation to the death itself, but there is clearly a rise in young people taking their own lives.

“Assuming the data is accurate, there is a clear sign that there is a problem – I think we are putting too much pressure on young people than is healthy.

“It used to be said years ago that students went to university to get three years off. But that is not the case any more.

“Students are putting themselves under a lot of pressure to do well, to be successful. That’s fine to want to achieve, but when that is having a detrimental impact on a person’s health, that is when we have serious problems.”

He said the charity has been working with Universities UK (UUK) to get an information-sharing approach to data, where students can opt in to allow staff to contact their family if there are concerns about the young person’s mental health.

John de Pury, UUK assistant director of policy, said: “This new release is the most comprehensive data we have on the rate of suicide among university students.

“Although there is a lower rate of student suicide among university students in England and Wales compared with the general population of similar ages, there is no room for complacency here.

“This remains an urgent challenge for universities and society.”

Sarah Caul, ONS senior research officer, said: “The rate of suicide in 2016/17 in higher education students was 4.7 deaths per 100,000 students.

“Although higher than in earlier years, the comparatively low numbers of suicides per year make it challenging to identify significant differences.

“Meanwhile, the rate for suicide in female students is significantly lower than the rate in males.

“This is also observed when looking at overall student suicides as well as the differences in studying patterns.

“Today’s analysis will help to develop policies and initiatives for those at greatest risk of suicide.”

– Samaritans offer free help through its helpline on 116 123 or email by