There were 319 suicides at English and Welsh universities over a four year period

The parents of Natasha Abrahart say the student suicide rate is still ‘far too high’

There were at least 319 suicides at universities and higher education colleges in England and Wales over a four year period, new data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveals.

In the academic year 2019/20, the student suicide rate stood at three in 100,000 (64 deaths recorded as suicide). This is represents the lowest rate recorded over the past four years.

This rate was also significantly lower than the rest of the population. Students make up 12 per cent of those aged 20 and under who have died by suicide, and seven per cent of those between 21-24 years of age.

The male student suicide rate was nearly double the female equivalent, with 202 male students taking their own life over the past four years, compared to 117 female students.


University suicide statistics

Bob and Margaret Abrahart’s daughter Natasha died by suicide aged 20 in April 2018. A court recently found that the University of Bristol discriminated against Natasha, with the uni’s actions contributing to her death. The University of Bristol is considering appealing the decision.

Commenting on the data, Bob said: “My gut reaction is that it shows a slight improvement, but 60-70 deaths is far too high. There should be 60-70 investigations to find out: what went wrong, how did this come about, was the university culpable in any way? As far as I know there has only been one in depth investigation into a student suicide and that’s by us.”

Bob and Margaret think the data isn’t conclusive, could be anomalous or could reflect more students choosing to defer their studies. “You’re never going to get any useful information if you go down this route because the numbers are too small,” Bob told The Tab.

The couple don’t think enough is being done by universities or regulators to monitor student mental health and are calling for more information sharing between universities to help prevent future deaths.

Freedom of Information requests sent by National World reveal that 59 per cent of UK universities don’t actually record student suicides.

Bob said: “If we don’t monitor it to see what’s going on, how can we have a policy that addresses it? It’s shooting in the dark without seeing whether you’ve hit the target.”


Left to right: Margaret, Bob and Natasha Abrahart

The National Union of Students has called on universities and the government to do more to support vulnerable students and “put protections in place to prevent thousands more reaching crisis point.”

An NUS spokesperson said: “Students are burdened with anxiety, feel overlooked by those in power, and are unsupported when it comes to addressing the financial difficulties that compound the student mental health crisis.

They added: “Students have been campaigning for university welfare services to improve for many years now, and although we’ve seen additional funding for institutions as a result of our efforts, there is still so much progress to be made. Universities are not separate from wider society.

“A commitment to fully funding the NHS is absolutely vital, so that waiting lists and costs for mental health services, medication, GP letters and diagnosis tests cease to be a barrier for anyone. They must also urgently commit to providing early support hubs which would prevent thousands from reaching crisis point, and remove the pressures of competition, financial barriers and discrimination from our education system so that these issues can be tackled at the root.”

Commenting on the university suicide statistics, Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said: “Behind every figure is an immeasurable tragedy; a family torn apart and loved ones whose grief can never fully heal.

“The information published gives government, universities and NHS trusts a clearer understanding of suicides in higher education, which will help improve vital prevention work.

“Protecting students’ mental health and wellbeing is deeply important to me and I know universities and their staff care as deeply as I do about preventing such tragedies. That is why in addition to commissioning this data, I have encouraged institutions to sign up to the University Mental Health Charter and to adopt the Safer Suicide Universities Framework – which supports universities by setting out steps they can take to prevent suicide.

“The Office for Students has also funded Student Space, a mental health hub for students which provides one-to-one text and web chat support. I encourage anyone who is struggling with their mental health to reach out – help is here for you.”

If you or someone you know has been affected by this story, please speak to someone or contact Samaritans on 116 123 at any time. You can contact Anxiety UK on 03444 775 774, Mind on 0300 123 3393, and Calm (Campaign against living miserably, for men aged 15 to 35) on 0800 58 58 58. You matter.

Featured image: Unsplash (edited)

Related articles recommended by this writer:

• Discrimination by the University of Bristol led to the suicide of a vulnerable student

• Natasha Abrahart’s parents: Bristol Uni ‘destroyed her and haven’t even said they’re sorry’

• Natasha Abrahart’s parents launch legal case against Bristol Uni over daughter’s suicide