According to a recent study, the rates of suicide among students in the UK has reached record levels. The international study, by Raymond Kwok and colleagues at Hong Kong University's Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention, provides further evidence that large numbers of students attending UK universities are struggling to maintain their mental health.
The study contributes to growing evidence of a problem with student mental health and confirms the findings of previous studies which suggest a fivefold increase in the number of students disclosing mental health problems over the last ten years. This comes on top of an increase in the number of students leaving courses because of mental health difficulties. And while this issue is not just limited to the UK, the scale of the crisis at UK universities has seen many counseling and mental health services overwhelmed by rising demand.
Students attend university at a developing stage of their young adulthood and making this transition from home life to university life can be emotionally challenging. Leaving behind existing support networks can also be highly difficult for students. The demands of academic life and the pressures of financially making ends meet can also be a real problem for students. And it's not just undergraduate students who feel the strain of student life either.
In one survey of 2,279 Ph.D. candidates, many reported high rates of anxiety and depression.F or these students, there is not just the demand to complete a Ph.D. thesis over three years, but also the teaching, admin, research and that is without mentioning the full-time and part-time jobs many students have to take on to survive. All of which no doubt contributes to university drop out rates and failure to produce academic work.
To help students in need, more personalized forms of support are required that acknowledge past traumas and distressed states – to address key sources of stress. In this way, there should be a concerted effort to tackle the causes of the problem.
But this isn't just down to counseling services or university mental health teams, everyone on campus has a role to play from the lecturers to support staff. This is important because students might be more likely to turn to a regular friendly face for help, rather than reach out to an official support service.
Ultimately, universities have a responsibility to create safe spaces and to provide support beyond the campus. And with latest figures showing that the suicide rates among UK students have increased by 56% in the last ten years to overtake the suicide rate of young people in the general population for the first time, it is clear that a huge effort is needed to provide more support and reassurance to students, throughout their studies.