Bristol student suicides: what's causing so much stress?

Miranda Williams took her own life three weeks into her Bristol University philosophy course. Credit: Family photo

Five Bristol University students have taken their own lives since September 2016, and a sixth student - from the University of the West of England - was found dead in a suspected suicide just last week.

There is no suggestion the deaths were linked, but they have raised serious concerns about mental health among students and the ability of universities to meet the growing demand for support, especially in the midst of exam season.

We asked current Bristol students to explain why life can get stressful:

"It's the difficulty of living alone for the first time; having to cook for yourself, managing money, trying to find a balance between having the 'time of your life', and trying to get good grades. And living in halls can be very isolating: it's very easy to sort of disappear."

Isabel, second year student

"The graduate jobs market isn't great at the moment. And also, people get here, realise they're a small fish in a big pond, and all of a sudden they've got to work a lot harder to feel they're going anywhere."

Benjie, finalist

"People often come to university with stress, for reasons that might lie at home. And gradually every year the pressure gets harder. It just depends on how you can deal with it and what your university has to offer to help you with that."

Jenna, finalist

of UK students have a mental health problem, according to a 2016 YouGov survey

Bristol University says it has significantly increased its welfare provision for students, and that this had been in the pipeline even before this year's deaths.

'We will continue to work with our students to improve our support for their wellbeing and mental health. In the context of increasing national concerns about student mental health we began a review of our support for students last summer, working with our Students’ Union. We have already committed to invest an additional £1m per year in enhancing support for student wellbeing and mental health. The review will be completed in the Spring and will recommend further enhancements to the ways that we support student wellbeing.'

Bristol University statement

It is not always easy to tell when someone is at risk of suicide. Here are some warning signs to look out for in others:

  • Loss of energy

  • Appearing more tearful

  • Not wanting to talk to or be with people

  • Not wanting to do things they usually enjoy

  • Finding it hard to cope with everyday things

  • Appearing restless and agitated

  • Not liking or taking care of themselves; feeling they don't matter

  • Using alcohol or drugs to cope with feelings

  • Becoming withdrawn and losing touch with friends and family

The NHS website offers lots of advice on how best to help someone who is suicidal.

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, you can contact the Samaritans' free 24-hour helpline by dialling 116 123

The NHS website also offers lots of advice here on how best to get help for yourself.

Watch our full report, part of our Mental Health Awareness Week coverage, by our Health Reporter Caron Bell: