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

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



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


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.


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.


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.


Suicide Deliberate self-harm Students 


Ethical note

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


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.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Keith Hawton
    • 1
    Email author
  • 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

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