Poverty raises suicide spectre

August 2, 1996

Growing anxiety over money could drive more undergraduates into suicide, according to the United Kingdom's leading depression charity.

The Depression Alliance has already noted a growth in the incidence of student depression, particularly among the 18-25 age group, and the charity fears that this will lead to a rise in suicides.

The alliance estimates that about 15 per cent of the UK higher and further education student population of 4.15 million (some 690,000 people) suffers from depression. The estimate is based on the overall figure for the incidence of depression in 18-25 year olds.

It is this age group, along with the over 75s, which has the highest suicide rate nationally: on average it is estimated that two 18-25-year-olds kill themselves every week. There are apparently no separate statistics for student suicides.

Rodney Elgie, the Alliance's director, said that the charity has produced a booklet to help the growing number of depressed young people who write pleading for advice.

It is designed to help students recognise the symptoms of depression and to seek appropriate help. It is due to be piloted in the autumn in six universities: St Andrews, Lancaster, Manchester Metropolitan, Exeter, Plymouth and Luton.

Mr Elgie said: "The problems will get worse with more suicides and increased feelings of hopelessness. As grants are reduced students are building up overdrafts and loans and they worry how they are going to cope. It is a tremendous millstone around their necks."

The Alliance says that it is important to recognise that depression is an illness and it would like to see more money given to institutions for welfare and support services.

The National Union of Students, which advised on the booklet, said that pressures on students also arose from job hunting in a highly competitive market. But it praised institutions for helping sufferers as much as money would allow.

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