FIGURES FROM the Office for National Statistics show an annual increase in suicides among students in England and Wales from 2007 to 2011, despite a decrease during the first half of the decade. Peaking at 127 suicides in 2010, student suicides rose by 36 per cent overall.

The increase was greatest among female students, with numbers almost
doubling in the period. Yet male suicides continue to be more common, with 375 men taking their lives compared to 143 women.

The increase bucks a former trend from the period 1997-2006, when
student suicides decreased by 29 per cent.

Katie Colliver, OUSU Vice-President for Welfare and Equal Opportunities, told Cherwell, “The Counselling Service has seen an increase in use in recent years and whilst this may be linked to the greater pressure students are experiencing in the current economic climate, we can also hope that this is a positive sign that more people are seeking help.”

Colliver encouraged students with concerns about their mental health to seek advice, continuing, “It is always better to seek help early, so if there is something on your mind, or you are concerned about changes in a friend’s behaviour, then it is worth making an appointment with your GP or the Counselling Service.”

The National Union of Students suggests that financial pressure can undermine students’ mental health. Hannah Paterson, NUS Disabled Students Officer, said, “Financial and debt pressures add to the stress of student life, and NUS research shows that even small amounts of debt can badly affect student well-being.”

The NUS fears that student support could be cut by universities in future. Paterson added, “With increasing financial pressures on institutions, support services can be the first thing to be cut, but it’s at times like this that it’s more important than ever that our universities protect counselling services.”

A spokesperson for Nightline, Oxford’s night-time counselling service, stated, “As far as we’re aware, Oxford students are no more likely to experience suicidal feelings than they would be elsewhere, and as far as we know there are no studies indicating a higher risk.”

A study at the Oxford Centre for Suicide Research agrees, concluding, “Contrary to earlier findings and popular belief, suicide rates among Oxford University students do not differ from those in other young people. Rates of DSH [deliberate selfharm] are significantly lower than in other young people.”

The statistics come a year after the Royal College of Psychiatrists called for help for depressed students. A report emphasised alcohol’s role in causing mental health problems, suggesting “steps should be taken to curtail inducements to consume alcohol, for example ‘happy hours’ and sales of cheap alcoholic drinks on campus”.

An Oxford University spokesman said, “Students who are struggling to cope personally or academically, or who have any kind of problem, will find a range of support available at many levels – college, university, Student Union, and the local Primary Care Trust where relevant.”

The Oxford Counselling Service is free for university members, giving individual counselling, workshops and self-help resources. The university also provides Nightline, a service which offers support for students from 8am until 8pm during term time. OUSU runs ‘Mind Your Head’, a campaign which helps students with their mental health. Its website states, “We want to create a more welcoming culture for people who have experienced mental health problems, to encourage every student to look after their mental wellbeing.”

Oxford Counselling Service can be contacted on 01865 270300. Nightline can be contacted on 01865 270270.