Just Sociology

Understanding the Rise of Suicide Rates Among Higher Education Students

The increase in suicide rates among higher education (HE) students is a growing concern both in academia and society. Office for National Statistics (ONS) data shows a systematic rise in the figures for HE students from 2006/07 to 2016/17.

While there is a statistical significance between the male and female student populations, rates among the 30+ age bracket and the limitations of data must be considered. There are several possible reasons for the rise in student suicides, including a mental health crisis and the pressure to succeed, which can be attributed to the double adjustment of university life.

This article aims to present the ONS data on HE student suicides and the possible reasons for the increase. Additionally, sociological interpretations of the data will be presented from two perspectives, structuralist and interpretivist.

The structuralist perspective focuses on the underlying causes of the increase, such as the mental health crisis and pressure to succeed, while the interpretivist perspective critiques the validity of the data and the reliability of media depictions of the crisis.

ONS Data on HE Student Suicides

According to the ONS, there were 95 HE student suicides in the UK in the academic year 2016/17. The data shows that male students are still more likely to die by suicide than female students.

The figures also reveal a rise in suicides among students aged 30 and over from 26 in 2006/07 to 65 in 2016/17. However, there are limitations to the ONS data, including underreporting, and the possibility that some student suicides are not recorded or are attributed to other causes.

Possible Reasons for Increase in Student Suicides

There is widespread concern that the rise in suicide rates among HE students is indicative of a mental health crisis. Under-resourced support services and the challenge of university life, such as homesickness or isolation, are other possible factors.

The pressure to succeed in exams and deadlines, achieve predicted grades and secure a satisfying career after graduation may also contribute to feelings of overwhelming stress, anxiety or low mood. Furthermore, the double adjustment to university life combined with transitioning to a young adult can also trigger or exacerbate existing mental health problems.

Structuralist Perspective

The structuralist perspective views social phenomena through an analysis of underlying structures and systems. Within the context of HE student suicides, the mental health crisis is seen as the result of a broader societal issue created by the neoliberal economic system.

The pressure to succeed and the double adjustment to university life are not only products of neoliberal educational and social policies, but they also perpetuate and exacerbate the mental health crisis. Critics argue however, that this perspective fails to account for individual agency and choice in university life.

Interpretivist Perspective

The interpretivist perspective emphasises the subjective experience of the individual and critiques societal institutions and their discourses. Critics of ONS data suggest the validity of the figures and the reliability of media representations of the student suicide crisis are not to be trusted?

Moral panic surrounding middle class white male students is often perpetuated in news reporters, while female and working-class suicides are under-reported. Furthermore, the localised event such as Bristol University’s high suicide rates are manipulated to represent a wider national trend, obscuring the specific contextual factors of individual cases.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the rise in suicide rates among HE students raises urgent questions about mental health support services, university policies, and broader societal issues. The ONS data highlights a concerning trend in mental health crises among HE students, while possible reasons for the increase include the pressure to succeed and the double adjustment of university life.

Sociological interpretations from structuralist and interpretivist perspectives provide valuable insights into the broader societal structures and individual experiences that contribute to the crises. However, more research is needed to fully understand the underlying causes of the increase in HE student suicides, and to develop effective interventions and support services for students at risk.

In conclusion, this article has presented an overview of the increase in suicide rates among higher education students and possible reasons for this trend. ONS data has shown a concerning rise in student suicides with an emphasis on the mental health crisis and pressure to succeed.

Sociological interpretations from structuralist and interpretivist perspectives offer insights into broader societal structures and individual experiences that contribute to the crises. As a society, it is imperative that we focus our attention on addressing mental health issues and providing necessary support for vulnerable students.

FAQs:

Q: What is the most significant reason for the increase in student suicides? A: The mental health crisis among university students is considered to be one of the most significant contributing factors to the increase in student suicides.

Q: Are there any limitations to the ONS data on HE student suicides? A: Yes, there are limitations to the ONS data on HE student suicides, including under-reporting and the possibility of misattribution of student suicides to other causes.

Q: How can universities better support students’ mental health needs? A: Universities can better support students’ mental health needs by ensuring that mental health services are adequately resourced and accessible, reducing the stigma associated with mental health problems, and fostering a supportive campus culture.

Q: Are there any specific risk groups for student suicides? A: ONS data shows that male students are more likely to die by suicide than female students, and suicide rates are also increasing among students aged 30 and over.

Q: What is the role of societal factors in the mental health crisis among students? A: Societal factors such as the pressure to succeed and the double adjustment to university life exacerbate the mental health crisis, which can be traced back to broader societal issues created by the neoliberal economic system.

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