It is with sadness that this week, I’ve read about another suicide of an undergraduate student, a male, at UK universities. At first I thought these suicides may be linked to their degree programmes, but when I looked across the news stories on the university suicides, they were mainly reporting on male students who came from range of disciplinary degrees. The Times Higher Education have reported that the suicide rate amongst undergraduate students has risen by 25% between 2012 to 2016. Further, the suicide rate amongst university students is more than the general population; and strangely the difference between the general and university population is higher amongst boys (0.9% difference) than girls (0.3% difference) in the age group of 20-24 years*.
This obviously begs the question, why is this happening? One may suspect that because male students had the highest suicide rates they would be more likely to have higher reported mental illness. In fact, it is the opposite, female students have the highest reported mental illness. It is possible that it is more acceptable within society for female students to admit they have a mental health. Is it further possible, that we, the academics have unconscious biasness, where were are more likely to be on the look-out for female students demonstrating mental illness and recommending that they seek help than male students? Many of us are trained in looking out for unconscious bias when we interview people and when we work with them, but there is little training/ examples around unconscious bias when it comes to mental health. Perhaps more awareness of this is need and how mental health illness may manifest itself in male students rather than us filing away abnormal behaviour in our minds as normal behaviour for boys.
If we do believe we have a duty of care for our students, we should be taking more proactive stance in ensuring that we know how to identify students who we may have cause for concern.
*I’ve not seen the original data/report, so the accuracy is based on my interpretation of the reported data. However, there is a report available which you may want to have a look at.