Student suicides at Greater Manchester universities since 2018 - special report

There is some concern that many institutions do not know how many students take their own lives while studying, and a reassurance that there is help and support available to anyone who needs it.

An investigation has shown 13 students at The University of Manchester have taken their own lives since 2018, amid national calls for more to be done to help students with their mental health.

Our sister title NationalWorld submitted Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to institutions with university status across the country, asking how many students had died in recent years and how many of those were suicides.

The University of Manchester was the only one in Greater Manchester that was able to provide figures on how many students had taken their own lives.

The number of universities who do not know how many students die by suicide has prompted concern from a national organisation, while charities have been emphasising that there is support and help available to anyone in crisis.

The University of Manchester said student health and wellbeing was a top priority and it was continuing to develop the support it makes available for anyone struggling during their degree courses.

What does the Greater Manchester data show?

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The data shows that at The University of Manchester six students died by suicide in 2018, three in 2019, three in 2020 and one in 2021.

The university pointed out that this is not necessarily a completely accurate picture as institutions are not always notified by coroners of the results of inquests involving students.

The data showed that 48 students at The University of Manchester have died from any cause since 2018.

The other Greater Manchester institutions which received FOIs - the University of Bolton, the University of Salford and Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) - could not provide details of how many students had died by suicide.

Nationally 59% of the 114 universities that were sent FOI requests for this information said they did not hold it.

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Some universities (Salford being one of them) did not include this information on their record systems, while others pointed out coroners are not under any obligation to tell them about inquest outcomes.

Bolton did not provide any information to the investigation, while Salford said there had been 35 student deaths from any cause between 2018 and 2020 and fewer than five in 2021 and the first quarter of 2022.

MMU said there had been 40 student deaths from any cause since 2018.

What has The University of Manchester said?

The University of Manchester said it took the wellbeing of students extremely seriously and explained some of the support that is available.

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Director for the student experience, Dr Simon Merrywest, said: “Any student suicide is a tragic event that impacts the families and friends of those who have died, everyone across our university community and the entire higher education sector.

“That is why the health of our 46,000 students is of utmost importance to us and why we take support for their mental wellbeing extremely seriously.

“We have a comprehensive suicide prevention, intervention and postvention strategy in place and continue to significantly invest in and evolve our support in this area.

“This includes a range of services from our counselling and mental health service, which is open to all students, to a 24-hour mental health helpline and wellbeing app, giving students immediate access to trained counsellors and advisors anywhere, anytime.

“We also operate a student peer-to-peer buddying scheme and are part of the dedicated Greater Manchester NHS Student Mental Health Service in partnership with all other higher education institutions in Greater Manchester and the NHS.

“If any student at our university – or any institution for that matter – is concerned about their mental wellbeing, or that of a friend, we urge them to get in touch with someone immediately so that we can support them.”

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The university said the counselling and mental health service website offered advice and help to anyone finding themselves in a crisis. That information is available here.

What have student organisations said about the findings?

The national findings raise questions about whether UK universities can know if their support services are adequate, with the National Union of Students (NUS) warning of a “student mental health crisis”.

The union said it was “deeply concerned” about the issue of suicide in higher education.

A spokesperson said: “Students are burdened with anxiety, feeling overlooked by those in power, and unsupported in addressing the financial difficulties that compound the student mental health crisis.

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“Students have been campaigning for university welfare services to improve for many years now, and although we’ve seen additional funding for institutions as a result of our efforts, there is still progress to be made.”

What else has been said about the data?

Universities UK, which represents the sector, said: “Universities want to learn from each avoidable student death to improve the ways that we work with statutory services to manage risk.”

It said it was working with the suicide prevention charities Papyrus and Samaritans on new guidance for universities on what to do after a student takes their own life, due to be published this summer.

A spokesperson said they would be interested in discussing whether coroners could notify a university as standard if one of their students died by suicide.

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The spokesperson said: “We would definitely be open to exploring this with coroners and public health authorities and how it could work in practice.”

However, the Ministry of Justice appeared less keen, saying coroners were “already obliged to issue a Prevention of Future Deaths report if they identify any circumstances that need addressing”.

“This report is sent to anyone involved that could take appropriate action, including universities,” a spokesperson said.

Nationally there are records of at least 120 students taking their own lives while studying at UK universities since 2018.

These findings come on the eve of an update to a major national report into the issue of student suicides across England and Wales by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

A previous study by the ONS, covering the period July 2001 to July 2017, painstakingly matched student death records with coroners’ court records to calculate the national suicide rate among university students.

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It found that while the suicide rate was lower among university students than among the wider population of the same age, male students were at greater risk than their female classmates.

An updated version of this study is due to be published on today (31 May).

What have mental health and suicide charities said?

Charities have been reassuring people that help is available for anyone who is struggling.

Ged Flynn, chief executive of youth suicide prevention charity Papyrus, said: “Many people inside and outside of education settings will find themselves supporting a loved one who may be struggling with thoughts of suicide.

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“This can be a very difficult situation to face, many people will find this challenging and they need to know professional help and support is available.”

  • Anyone affected by this issue can contact Papyrus, which offers support and advice to young people aged up to 35, by ringing the Papyrus HopelineUK free on 0800 068 4141, texting 07860 039967 or emailing [email protected] instead.
  • You can also call the Samaritans for free on 116 123, email them at [email protected], or visit samaritans.org to find your nearest branch.