UK student suicide rate ‘rises by 56 per cent in 10 years’

Suicide rate among UK students exceeds that among young people in general population for first time, finds analysis

April 12, 2018
Depression

The suicide rate of UK students increased by 56 per cent in the 10 years to 2016 to overtake the suicide rate of young people in the general population for the first time, according to a new analysis.

Taking into account changes in the student population, the UK student suicide rate rose from 6.6 to 10.3 per 100,000 people between 2007 and 2016. The rate in 2016 was 9 per cent higher than in 2015, and 25 per cent higher than in 2012.

The rate for male students in 2016 was 15.7 per 100,000 people, compared with 14.8 among 20- to 24-year-old males in the general population, while the rate for females was 6.0 per 100,000 people, compared with 5.7 among their non-student counterparts.

In addition, female students were almost 20 per cent more at risk of suicide in 2016 compared with women across all ages of the general population, when the age-standardised rate was used, according to an analysis of government figures from researchers based at the University of Hong Kong.

The data show that the rising student suicide rate was particularly evident among women, with 51 female students committing suicide in 2016, compared with 22 in 2012.

The researchers say that their analysis refutes claims that the increase in the number of student suicides might be explained by a rise in the number of students attending university.

Although the number of university students increased by 5 per cent between 2012 and 2016, the total number of suicides rose by 32 per cent (from 139 to 183), it says.

Edward Pinkney, co-author of the analysis, which was carried out with the Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention at HKU, said that 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,” he said.

The Office for National Statistics said its figures cannot be used to ascertain the risk of suicide among students as year-to-year differences in numbers of deaths may reflect change in the student population across time. However, Mr Pinkney said the analysis combined the ONS figures with student population data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency to come up with a rate.

The findings, which will be presented in full at the International Association for Suicide Prevention’s annual conference in New Zealand in May, follow a report published last September by the Institute for Public Policy Research that revealed that the number of first-year students disclosing mental health issues rose fivefold in the previous decade.

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

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