The suicide rate among UK students is now higher than among the general population of their age group, say researchers
Universities have a suicide problem - it’s what researchers have concluded, following a study that shows the number of students taking their own lives has overtaken the general population for the first time.
The Hong Kong-based Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention has found that the suicide rate among UK students had risen by 56% in the 10 years between 2007 and 2016, from 6.6 to 10.3 per 100,000 people. To put this into perspective, ONS figures show that the average suicide rate among the general population of 15-19 year olds was 5.9, while the rate for 20-24 year-olds was 10.4.
There has been a growing concern about mental health issues among the university student population in recent years - particularly with regards to growing suicide rates. However, it has often been argued that suicide rates for students have been lower than the general population. Although, these new figures now suggest otherwise.
The analysis has also taken into account the rise in the number of students attending university, which puts paid to theories that levels have increased because of the higher number of students.
"As far as suicide is concerned, there is a real problem in higher education."
Another key consideration with these figures is that the type of "student" is not specified - it's not clear whether these young people are at university, or in some other form of study. Nonetheless, the figures highlight the significant pressures that students are facing in higher education generally, not only those at university.
Edward Pinkney, researcher at Hong Kong University and co-author of the analysis, 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.
Historically, male students have consistently had higher suicide rates, but the new research highlights that there has been a particular increase among female students. There has been a striking rise in suicides of young women, with the rate more than doubling in the five years between 2012 and 2016, from 22 suicides in 2012 to 51 in 2016.
This corroborates with figures from the ONS last year, which showed that suicide among women in their early twenties was at its highest level in two decades.
Universities UK, the representative organisation for the UK's universities, has previously said that student mental health is "a strategic priority", having introduced its own framework to guide universities when embedding mental health resources across their campuses. However, perhaps more needs to done sooner, to prevent suicide rates amongst students increasing any further.
The new findings are set to be presented in full at the International Association for Suicide Prevention annual conference in New Zealand in May.