Suicide and deliberate self-harm in Oxford University students over a 30-year period

  • Keith Hawton
  • Helen Bergen
  • Su Mahadevan
  • Deborah Casey
  • Sue Simkin
Original Paper

Abstract

Purpose

To determine whether rates of suicide and self-harm in university students differ from those in other young people.

Methods

We obtained information on Oxford University students who died by suicide or presented to hospital following deliberate self-harm (DSH) between 1976 and 2006 from official records and a General Hospital monitoring system in Oxford. Rates of suicide and self-harm in the students and in other young people in the general population were calculated from university, local and national population figures.

Results

Forty-eight Oxford University students (32 males and 16 females) died by suicide. Most (N = 42) were aged 18–25 years. The suicide rate did not differ from that of other people in this age group in England and Wales (SMR 105.4; 95% CI 75.2, 143.4). There was evidence of clustering of methods of suicide over time. During the same period, 602 students (383 females and 219 males) presented to the General Hospital following DSH. Most (90.7%) were aged 15–24 years, in which age group rates of DSH (per 100,000) during term-time were lower than in other young people in Oxford City (females: 206.5 vs. 285.6, z = −5.03, p < 0.001; males: 75.9 vs. 111.2, z = −4.35; p < 0.001). There was an excess of student DSH episodes in the main exam term.

Conclusions

Contrary to earlier findings and popular belief, suicide rates in Oxford University students do not differ from those in other young people. Rates of DSH are significantly lower than in other young people. Risk of DSH may increase around the time of examinations.

Keywords

Suicide Deliberate self-harm Students 

Notes

Ethical note

The Oxford Monitoring System for Attempted Suicide has ethical approval from the local Research Ethics Committee.

Acknowledgments

We thank the Townsend-Jeantet Prize Trust for funding the investigation of deliberate self-harm in university students, in memory of Hector Scott-Russell. We also thank Jennifer Noon and Ellen Hudspith from Oxford University Offices for their assistance in providing data on deaths, and the staff of the Barnes Unit, John Radcliffe Hospital, and Liz Bale and Anna Shepherd, for their help in collecting the data on deliberate self-harm. The Monitoring System and allied research are currently supported by a grant from the Department of Health for a multicentre study on self-harm. Professor Hawton is supported by Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust and is a National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Senior Investigator. Sue Simkin is funded from an NIHR Programme Grant for Applied Research (RP-PG-0606-1247). The opinions expressed are solely those of the authors. It also has approval from the Patient Information Advisory Group under Section 60 of the Health & Social Care Act, 2000 (now Section 251 of the NHS Act, 2006), and complies with the requirements of the Data Protection Act, 1998.

References

  1. 1.
    Royal College of Psychiatrists (2003) The mental health of students in higher education. Council report CR112. Royal College of Psychiatrists, LondonGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Parnell RW (1951) Mortality and prolonged illness among Oxford undergraduates. Lancet 1:731–733PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Rook A (1959) Student suicides. BMJ 1:599–603PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Cresswell PA, Smith GA (1968) Student suicide: a study of social integration. R. I. Severs, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Hawton K, Simkin S, Fagg J, Hawkins M (1995) Suicide in Oxford University students, 1976–1990. Br J Psychiatry 166:44–50PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Collins IP, Paykel ES (2000) Suicide amongst Cambridge University students 1970–1996. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 35:128–132PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Finlay SE (1968) Suicides and attempted suicides in Leeds University. Proceedings of the British student health association conferenceGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Platt SD (1986) Suicide and parasuicide among further education students in Edinburgh. Br J Psychiatry 150:183–188CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Silverman MM, Meyer PM, Sloane F, Raffel M, Pratt DM (1997) The big ten student suicide study: a 10-year study of suicides on midwestern University campuses. Suicide Life Threat Behav 27:285–303PubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Schwartz AJ (2006) Four eras of study of college student suicide in the United States: 1920–2004. J Am Coll Health 54:353–366PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Skegg K (2005) Self-harm. Lancet 366:1471–1483PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Hawton K, Bergen H, Casey D, Simkin S, Palmer B, Cooper J, Kapur N, Horrocks J, House A, Lilley R, Noble R, Owens D (2007) Self-harm in England: a tale of three cities. Multicentre study of self-harm. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 42:513–521PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Hawton K, Crowle J, Simkin S, Bancroft J (1978) Attempted suicide and suicide among Oxford University students. Br J Psychiatry 132:506–509PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Hawton K, Haigh R, Simkin S, Fagg J (1995) Attempted suicide in Oxford University students, 1976–1990. Psychol Med 25:179–188PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Charlton J, Kelly S, Dunnell K, Evans B, Jenkins R, Wallis R (1992) Trends in suicide deaths in England and Wales. Popul Trends 69:10–16Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Linsley KR, Schapira K, Kelly TP (2001) Open verdict v. suicide—importance to research. Br J Psychiatry 178:465–468PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Hawton K, Simkin S, Haigh R, Fagg J (1992) Suicide and attempted suicide by Oxford University students, 1976–1990. University of Oxford, Department of Psychiatry, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Hawton K, Harriss L, Hall S, Simkin S, Bale E, Bond A (2003) Deliberate self-harm in Oxford, 1990–2000: a time of change in patient characteristics. Psychol Med 33:987–996PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Biddle L, Brock A, Brookes ST, Gunnell D (2008) Suicide rates in young men in England and Wales in the 21st century: time trend study. BMJ 336:539–542PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Gunnell D, Bennewith O, Hawton K, Simkin S, Kapur N (2005) The epidemiology and prevention of suicide by hanging: a systematic review. Int J Epidemiol 34:433–422Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Pirkis J, Blood RW, Beautrais A, Burgess P, Skehans J (2006) Media guidelines on the reporting of suicide. Crisis 27:82–87PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Hawton K, Williams K (2005) Media influences on suicidal behaviour: evidence and prevention. In: Hawton K (ed) Prevention and treatment of suicidal behaviour: from science to practice. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 293–306Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    The Samaritans (2002) Media guidelines. Portrayals of suicide. The Samaritans, Ewell, UKGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Beales I (2009) The editors’ codebook: the handbook to the editors’ code of practice (revised 2nd edition). Newspaper Publishers Association; Newspaper Society; Periodical Publishers Association; Scottish Daily Newspaper Society; Scottish Newspaper Publishers Association, LondonGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Hawton K, Casey D, Bale E, Shepherd A, Bergen H, Simkin S (2009) Deliberate self-harm in Oxford 2007. Centre for Suicide Research, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Mahadevan S, Hawton K, Casey D (2010) Deliberate self-harm in Oxford University students, 1993–2005: a descriptive and case-control study. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 45:211–219Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Stanley N, Mallon S, Bell J, Manthorpe J (2009) Trapped in transition: findings from a UK study of student suicide. Br J Guid Counc 37:419–433CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Hawton K, Rodham K, Evans E, Weatherall R (2002) Deliberate self-harm in adolescents: self report survey in schools in England. BMJ 325:1207–1211PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Madge N, Hewitt A, Hawton K, de Wilde EJ, Corcoran P, Fekete S, Van Heeringen K, De Leo D, Ystgaard M (2008) Deliberate self-harm within an international community sample of young people: comparative findings from the Child and Adolescent Self-harm in Europe (CASE) Study. J Child Psychol Psychiatry 49:667–677PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Sell L, Robson P (1998) Perceptions of college life, emotional well-being and patterns of drug and alcohol use among Oxford undergraduates. Oxford Rev Educ 24:235–243CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Whitlock J, Knox KL (2007) The relationship between self-injurious behavior and suicide in a young adult population. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 161:634–640PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    Hawton K, Rodham K, Evans E, Harriss L (2009) Adolescents who self harm: a comparison of those go to general hospital and those who do not. Child Adolesc Ment Health 14:24–30CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    Hawton K, Harriss L, Simkin S, Bale E, Bond A (2001) Social class and suicidal behaviour: the associations between social class and the characteristics of deliberate self-harm patients and the treatment they are offered. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 36:437–443PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Keith Hawton
    • 1
  • Helen Bergen
    • 1
  • Su Mahadevan
    • 1
  • Deborah Casey
    • 1
  • Sue Simkin
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry, Warneford HospitalUniversity of Oxford Centre for Suicide ResearchHeadingtonUK

Personalised recommendations