40 per cent of PhD students are ‘at high risk of suicide’, study says

‘I truly believe that a PhD degree can kill you’

40 per cent of PhD students based at UK universities could be “at high risk of suicide” according to the findings of a survey that interviewed 1,263 respondents.

Chronic stress levels and acute loneliness were cited as key reasons for the raised suicide risk.

Researchers from the universities of Sussex and Westminster also found that eight per cent of respondents had actually attempted to take their own lives.

11 per cent of respondents considered suicide “very often” (more than five times in the past year) while nearly six per cent revealed they “often” thought about (three to four times in the past year).

“I truly believe that a PhD degree can kill you,” said one student who took the survey. “The main reason for feeling suicidal and that you want to give up is the fact that you’re doing your best to prove you are very smart and capable and you end up being put down and criticised very harshly.”

Another respondent said: “Sometimes I imagine committing suicide to ‘punish’ my supervisor and the postdoc who have made my life miserable.”

Dr Cassie Hazell, one of the authors of the survey, described the results as “heartbreaking.” Hazell told Times Higher Education: “There is a real pressure to be perfect, which isn’t helped by the fact we don’t talk about how messy and frustrating doing research can be.”

She added: “They often fall between two groups because they are, technically, students but they don’t have lectures or seminars, and they might be working as staff but aren’t covered by HR processes in the same way as other employees.”

An international report that surveyed over 6,000 PhD students in 2019 found that over a third of respondents had looked for help for anxiety or depression.

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