The number of suicides at British universities before anyone started to notice

A Tab investigation reveals that universities don’t even have the figures

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The Telegraph has been asking their readers a question lately. It’s rhetorical, but they can’t say for sure because they don’t want to worry everyone too much. They want to know “Do British universities have a suicide problem?”

Through The Tab’s ongoing investigation into mental health at university, figures show there were 134 suicides in 2015, up from 130 in 2014 – a massive rise of 30 from 2013. Our annual mental health survey of over 8,500 people showed over half of students suffering from a mental health issue.

But that’s not why they’re asking the eternal question – it comes after extensive coverage of Bristol, where five students have killed themselves since the start of the academic year. While the coroner says the deaths weren’t linked, it’s safe to say he means it wasn’t part of a pact, because the problem is that they are linked, almost inextricably. They all suffered from mental health issues.

Obviously then, universities do have a problem with suicide and mental health, and they’ve had it for years. The public are learning about this issue for the first time through increased media attention, but till now it’s rarely been talked about because universities don’t like to – we found most don’t even record how many students commit suicide. It’s as if they don’t want you to know, as if it’s a blotch on their reputation that doesn’t align with their friendly campus vibe they’re trying to peddle.

We asked the top 35 universities how many students committed suicide in the past five academic years. Shockingly, only a handful could tell us. Most said they do not record the information because they are not obliged to…

It’s hard to wonder then, how a university is supposed to tackle a problem, arguably the biggest problem facing students in the UK right now, if they don’t know the scale of it. Some universities told us they don’t know because the coroner’s court who decide on the cause of death don’t tell them. Some universities did know. In the last five years: Birmingham and Liverpool had two, UCLan had three, Sussex and York had six, Sheffield had seven, Edinburgh had eight and Cardiff had nine.

Leicester wouldn’t say a specific number, but told us it was less than five. Suicide isn’t just an issue for students. Glasgow couldn’t tell us student numbers, but revealed four staff members had killed themselves.

In our ongoing investigation into the effectiveness of counselling services and their funding, we called on universities to do more, improve their services and invest. How can they expect to do this if they’re clueless to the scale of the issue? So yes, British universities have a problem – a big problem. More students said they thought their university handled suicide and mental health badly than well. And the majority of students know at least three friends who are suffering.

So what next? It’s no longer a secret, and it’s not something we can keep avoiding. We’re calling on students to continue to talk about the issue and help each other. We’re calling on government to intervene, change the system and force universities to be accountable for what happens to their students. We’re calling on universities to start caring for their students and investigating each and every death, and finally tackle this problem head on.

If you’re struggling with a mental health issue, or know someone who is, please contact the Samaritans helpline on 116 123 or contact your university’s counselling service.