Suicide prevention in the student population
Clinical Lead @ TalkLife
October 26, 2022
What are the new guidelines?
Universities UK (UUK, 2022) have issued new guidelines asking universities to adopt a more proactive approach to suicide prevention. The new guidelines recommend that universities share any serious concerns they have about a student with their trusted contacts, including parents, carers or friends, even without their consent. This is in addition to existing laws allowing universities to share concerns about a student in an emergency.
Why do we need new guidelines?
The guidelines have been issued following a number of high profile student suicides in the UK. Bereaved family members and friends have been speaking out in the press, highlighting missed opportunities for intervention and campaigning for a change in law to make universities more accountable.
There is powerful evidence from families bereaved by suicide that professionals should be sharing information where there are concerns (House of Commons Report, 2016). While students, as adults, have a legal right to confidentiality, encouraging the option to share concerns with family members or trusted others can improve the support around a person and their chances of recovery (NICE, 2019).
Encouragingly, UUK has recommended that universities should start asking students about their trusted contacts during the enrolment process. This is a great opportunity to normalise conversations around mental health from early on and it is important to think about how these conversations are framed. Asking a student about finding people who can support them if things get tough or go wrong is more likely to get a positive response than simply asking for contacts and consent to share information.
Are suicide rates higher in the student population?
It is important to point out that suicide rates in the student population have decreased in recent years and are lower than in the general population of similar ages (ONS, 2021). However, there has been an increase in young people being diagnosed with mental health problems across the board (Newlove-Delgado, 2021). The student population is particularly vulnerable as late teens or early 20’s is the time when most mental health problems emerge (Kessler et al. 2007), around the same time most students first go to university. While most people with mental health problems do not go on to end their lives and some people without mental health problems do, there is a relationship between good mental health support and suicide prevention. We need to do more to reach students who may be struggling with their mental health, providing accessible wellbeing services and encouraging students to be open about and look after their mental health as a priority.
What role does TalkCampus have?
Suicide is preventable and we believe that TalkCampus has a unique role to play in improving accessibility to student mental health support. TalkCampus is a 24/7 online peer support community for students that can be accessed anywhere in the world. It is a safe and supportive community, moderated by online safety experts and clinicians who flag and manage risk in real time. TalkCampus also works with our partner universities to develop bespoke escalation pathways, providing incident reporting for students who may be at risk and signposting back into the universities local support services. We know that university wellbeing services are struggling to meet demand from the student population. We also know that this generation of young people are tech savvy and, for them, communicating online is the norm (Kuss and Griffiths, 2015). TalkCampus offers an innovative digital solution to improve accessibility, and provide mental health support to each and every student.
Comment from the Royal Academy of Dance, London.
"Our community of over 400,000 students is based in more than 80 countries all over the world, in an array of time zones and speaks multiple languages. Providing all of our students with available support in their hours of need, wherever they are based and in whatever language they choose, is so important to us. The fact the platform caters to all of their time zones and provides them with help and connectivity outside of our office hours is a great comfort."
What is the bigger picture?
Of course, this is only a part of the picture and wider conversations about suicide prevention in the student population need to happen. The UK government is looking at how NHS mental health services can work better together and partner with universities to avoid students falling through the gaps when they move location to study, and at how universities are tackling the issue of student mental health (Department for Education, 2022). Suicide prevention is everyone’s business and we need to do more so that no more families or communities have to endure the suffering that follows the death of a young person in such tragic circumstances.
TalkLife builds online global peer support communities to support with mental health. TalkCampus is our student specific community offering 24/7 support and real time bespoke clinical escalation back into institutions. We are partnered with over 200 universities worldwide.
Department for Education, Department for Health and Social Care (2022) Gaps in student mental health services to be tackled. Press Release. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/gaps-in-student-mental-health-services-to-be-tackled
Kessler, R. C., Amminger, G. P., Aguilar-Gaxiola, S., Alonso, J., Lee, S. and Ustün, T. B. (2007) ‘Age of onset of mental disorders: a review of recent literature’. Curr Opin Psychiatry. (4):359-64. doi: 10.1097/YCO.0b013e32816ebc8c. PMID: 17551351; PMCID: PMC1925038.
Kuss, D. J. and Griffiths, M. D. (2011) ‘Online Social Networking and Addiction – A Review of the Psychological Literature’, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 8 (9), pp. 3528-3552
House of Commons Health Committee (2016) Suicide prevention: interim report. Available at: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmhealth/300/300.pdf
National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) (2019) Suicide prevention. Quality standard. QS189. Available at: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/qs189
Newlove-Delgado T, Williams T, Robertson K, McManus S, Sadler K, Vizard T, Cartwright C, Mathews F, Norman S, Marcheselli F, Ford T. (2021) Mental Health of Children and Young People in England, 2021. NHS Digital, Leeds.
Office for National Statistics (2021) Estimating suicide among higher education students, England and Wales: Experimental Statistics: 2017 to 2020. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/articles/estimatingsuicideamonghighereducationstudentsenglandandwalesexperimentalstatistics/2017to2020
Universities UK (2022) Suicide-safer universities: sharing information with trusted contacts. Available at: https://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/sites/default/files/uploads/Reports/uuk-papyrus-suicide-safer-universities-sharing-information.pdf