University to act over high rates of suicide

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The Independent Online
OXFORD UNIVERSITY is considering more help for students to ease academic and emotional pressures, including a 50 per cent boost to its counselling service.

The move comes after a report yesterday showed that suicides among the university's students were 30 per cent more common than among other young people.

The most detailed survey of student suicides carried out showed that 21 Oxford University students took their own lives between 1976 and 1990. In addition, there were 254 attempted suicides, according to the survey conducted for the university by a consultant psychiatrist, Dr Keith Hawton.

Publication of the survey coincided with the funeral of Oxford University's most recent suicide, Pamela Wray, 21, a final-year modern languages student who was found hanged at her home last week. She was one of three recent deaths among Oxford undergraduates.

Last month Henry Skelton, 21, fell to his death from a window after drinking champagne and taking LSD. An inquest resulted in an open verdict, but he was known to have been depressed and had contemplated suicide.

Tracey Cole, 18, a first-year English student, hanged herself in her room before the Michaelmas term. There were two suicides during the 1990-91 academic year and one during 1991-92.

The survey and a report by Dr Hawton shows the number of suicides by Oxford students - 16 male and five female - was 30 per cent higher than the national average for the 18 to 25 age group. But he argued that if open verdicts were included in the comparison, the difference virtually disappeared.

This was because research had shown that as many as 80 per cent of open verdicts were likely to have been suicides, and open verdicts were less likely to be returned in cases of students who died by their own hand.

The number of attempted suicides by Oxford students was between 30 per cent and 50 per cent lower when compared to the general population. Dr Hawton said: 'There was no indication that there has been an increase in the problem over the 14 years.'

Suicide rates among Oxford students were now 'considerably lower' than during the 20 years before and after the Second World War. The number of Oxford University suicides since 1990 was not an increase; during 1979- 80, 1987-88 and 1989-90 there had been three suicides, he said.

The chairman of the university's committee on students' health, Dr Ann Taylor, said Oxford was highly competitive both socially and academically. 'They have excelled at school and then arrive at university to find they are not the only stars.'

Dons accepted recommendations by student counsellors that colleges should consider:

Ways of reducing academic pressure on students;

Advice for newcomers on how to cope with university life;

How best to involve students in college activities.

The university's counselling service had more than doubled, and a 50 per cent increase in funding was being sought.

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