Student suicides rise during recession years

The number of students who have taken their own lives in England and Wales has increased dramatically since the start of the recession. Between 2007 and 2011, suicides by male students in full-time higher education grew by 36%, from 57 to 78, while female student suicides almost doubled from 18 to 34, according to new figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). This is from the Guardian…

This comes year after a report by the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RPS) urged a “pressing need” for increased provision and support for student mental health. Key recommendations included training academics and other university staff to recognise the warning signs of suicide and greater incentives for GPs interested in running health services for students.

“Reducing the risk of student suicide is an issue universities take very seriously,” said Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK. “Suicide is a devastating loss to family and friends, and to society. Universities recognise the importance of monitoring a student’s transition into higher education, and, where appropriate, they provide training for staff so that they can be alert for students at risk.”

But the National Union of Students (NUS) called the increased numbers of suicide “worrying”. A combination of rising financial and academic pressures on students coupled with recent cutbacks to university support services could be partly to blame, suggested Hannah Paterson, NUS disabled students’ officer.

“Over the past five years there has been a huge increase in the amount of stress students are feeling,” said Paterson. “Being a student is a stressful time. Moving away from home and family, you often lose your support networks and the people you would rely on. Now, finance and debt problems are adding increasing pressures. When you’re paying that much for your education, coming out with a good mark matters even more.”

While universities acknowledge their responsibilities over student welfare, said Patterson, “provisional services are the first to go” when funding cuts come in. Reductions in staff numbers and student contact time are growing problems for university counselling services, she added. “Instead of cutting the amount of people getting access to counselling, services are reducing the number of sessions from 10 to five for example.”

The ONS figures were released via a freedom of information request by Ed Pinkney, 26, a Leeds University graduate and founder of student health charity Mental Wealth UK. The charity’s 25by2012 campaign, launched in the wake of the RPS report, was aimed at establishing mental health and wellbeing groups at 25 universities by the end of 2012.

“Our idea was a peer-led approach of students talking to students,” said Pinkey of the roadshow-based campaign, which met its target in three months. “It’s our peers that we tend to talk to about day-to-day struggles and our peers that determine how we discuss issues around mental health.”

Pinkey added: “The more open students can be the better. And the more open universities can be about what services they do provide – and what services they don’t – the more we can fix the problem.”

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