A new study has shown that a record number of students in higher education in the UK have killed themselves in recent years. The alarming statistics also claim that the number of undergraduates who have disclosed mental health problems during their first year has grown to a total of over 15,000 in a decade.
The data shared by London's Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) thinktank found that 134 students killed themselves in 2015, a new high. That same year also holds the record for the largest total of students who dropped out of university due to suffering from some form of mental health condition.
The results indicate that first-year suicide rates have doubled over the past ten years. The study highlighted that female students attending university in their first year were more likely to disclose their mental health concerns during 2015-2016.
It also raised concerns about increased demand for treatment, with 94% of 58 universities questioned noting a sharp rise in those seeking or requiring counselling over a five-year period.
The percentage of students currently using or requiring counselling services reached as much as 26% at certain universities, the report said.
The report calls on the Department of Health to produce a new NHS Student Health Fund, a new student premium to increase funding for GP practices located at student hotspots, and for universities to ensure their counselling services remain mindful of the mental health services available to vulnerable students.
"Universities must be ready to support these students, including, where appropriate, through referral into specialist care. But the extent of support is currently too varied, and many university services are overwhelmed by the level of demand," he said.
"As a first step, the university sector should make a firm commitment to drive up quality and increase access to support services. Along with strengthened NHS provision and funding, this will help ensure that no student is held back by their mental health."
Vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham, Sir Anthony Seldon, told The Guardian that the findings will act as a "massive wake-up call to universities to take this area much more seriously".
"Some vice-chancellors still think [mental health care] is not the business of universities and it's just about development of the mind, but developing minds means nothing unless you also help people learn how to become settled down and ready to learn."
As for the cause of the suicide rate spike, experts have suggested that student loan debt could be a major factor. Increased awareness of mental health problems has also been cited as a possible cause, with more students willing to report concerns with their mental well-being.
The Samaritans provides a free support service for those who need to talk to someone in the UK and Republic of Ireland. It can be contacted via Samaritans.org or by calling 116 123 (UK) or 116 123 (ROI), 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.