The suicide rate among UK students is higher than among the general population of their age group, claim researchers.
The study, to be presented next month at the International Suicide Prevention Conference in New Zealand, has analysed figures for student suicides between 2007 and 2016.
Image from Wigan and Leigh College January 2018 State of Mind session
Wigan College January 2018 1
But the Office for National Statistics cautions that “year-to-year differences could reflect change in the population of students across time as opposed to change in the risk of suicide”.
There has been much concern about mental health worries on university campuses – but it has often been argued that suicide rates for students have been lower than the general population.
But the Hong Kong-based researchers say there no longer seems to be this “protective effect against suicide”.
Male students have consistently had higher suicide rates, but the research says there has been a particular increase among female students.
Dr Raymond Kwok, of the Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention, at Hong Kong University, said, “between 2012 and 2016, there is a significant trend in rising suicides for UK female students, with the exception of those in Scotland”.
Researchers say that between 2007 and 2016, student suicide rates increased by 56% – from 6.6 to 10.3 per 100,000 of the population.
The 2016 figures showed 146 student suicides, the highest in records going back to 2001. Between 2001 and 2007, there had been a pattern of falling numbers, but since then numbers have tended to rise.
These figures also do not specify the type of “student”, whether at university or some other form of study.
But the Office for National Statistics said that this data “cannot be used to ascertain the risk of suicide among students”.
The ONS says it is currently working on developing “a robust method for understanding the risk of suicide among certain kinds of students”.
“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,” said Edward Pinkney, who has tracked student suicide data and co-authored the analysis.
“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.
There have been warnings about anxiety and mental health worries among university students.
A report published in autumn showed the numbers of students disclosing mental health problems had increased fivefold in a decade.
The analysis – from the Institute of Public Policy Research – showed higher rates of problems among female students.
Sir Anthony Seldon, vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham and a campaigner on student well-being, said: “Student suicide rates and emotional distress levels could be reduced at university if we acted differently.
“More support in transitions, better tutoring and early warning, more peer to peer support, an enhanced sense of belonging, would all enhance wellbeing and reduce risk.
“We are obsessed by reactive policy once students hit the bottom of the waterfall; we need to be putting preventative policies in place to prevent them ever tipping over the edge,” said Sir Anthony.
BBC News website Sean Coughlan
BBC News education and family correspondent