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Guidance on preventing student suicides

Universities UK (UUK) and PAPYRUS, a UK charity for the prevention of young suicide, have published new guidance on preventing student suicides. Besides mental health and disability advisors, and counselling services, the document describes security staff as among the ‘helpers in the community’.

The guide was launched at Sheffield at UUK’s annual conference. At least 95 university students took their own lives in the last academic year in England and Wales. Although new data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that there is a significantly lower rate of student suicide among university students in England and Wales compared with the general population, university leaders have said that there is no room for complacency.

The guide begins with stats including that one in 20 will try to take their own life; and that suicide is the biggest cause of death among young people; yet only one in three who take their own life were known to mental health services beforehand. The document includes advice on developing a strategy focused on suicide prevention, covering:

Steps to prevent student suicide;
Intervening when students get into difficulties;
Best practice for responding to student suicides;
Case studies on approaches to suicide prevention through partnership working; and
Checklist highlighting steps university leaders can take to make their communities safer.

Professor Steve West, Vice-Chancellor of UWE Bristol and Chair of UUK’s Mental Health in Higher Education Advisory Group, said: “When students take their own lives, it has a profound impact on family, friends, staff and students. This new guide offers practical advice on understanding and preventing suicide, as well as guidance on how best to support those most affected. We urge university leaders to work with their student support services to develop a strategy which focuses on preventing, intervening, and responding to suicide as part of an overall mental health strategy. Students and staff must be at the centre of this, and senior leadership within universities must build on their relationships with local authorities and the NHS to achieve real change.”

Nina Clarke, PAPYRUS deputy chief executive said: “PAPYRUS has many years’ experience working in community-based suicide prevention initiatives, including universities. We were therefore delighted to be asked to co-produce this guide. Universities UK is in a position to raise greater awareness of the guide among institutions of higher education than we might do on our own. We hope that all universities will step up to this and we stand ready to support them in becoming suicide-safer.”

James Murray, father of Ben Murray, who took his own life while a student, is quoted at the beginning of the document. He said: “Our son Ben was amongst the two thirds of sudden deaths involving students not previously known to support services. We sincerely hope that the number of sudden deaths will reduce over time, but hope is not a strategy, and that’s why this guidance is so important.”

For the 36-page document visit the UUK website.

Case studies: Bangor University’s Counselling Service.


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