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Government Backs Research into Student Suicide

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A major piece of research exploring incidence and prevention of student suicide at UK universities is about to begin after receiving backing from the Government.

In a blog published by Times Higher Education today, Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt MP, has called on universities to work in partnership to encourage better reporting of student suicides and explore prevention and response strategies currently in place across the sector.

The research will be led by the University of Worcester, which has been pioneering multi-agency approaches to student suicide prevention for several years now, with support from leading suicide epidemiologists Professor Keith Hawton at the University of Oxford and Professor David Gunnell at the University of Bristol. It has received the backing of Universities UK, Public Health England and the Office for National Statistics.

In his blog, the Secretary of State writes: “It is vitally important that all 163 UK universities work with the project team so that we can arrive at a better understanding of both the national picture and the circumstances around each individual tragedy – as the first step in setting up prevention programmes that can work so well in reducing adult suicides.”

The announcement follows the launch of a new framework by Universities UK to help improve the mental health and wellbeing of university students.

Jo Smith, Professor of Early Intervention and Psychosis at Worcester, said: “We know that student mental health is a complex issue that requires a wide-ranging and multi-faceted response, and that is why we emphasise the need for a broad base of partners working together to tackle this issue. We are delighted that Universities UK, Public Health England and the Office for National Statistics have all agreed to support this vital research, which we hope will lead to more understanding and ultimately better preventative measures.”

The research will be under taken by University of Worcester PhD student Chantal Vinyard, under the supervision of Professor Jo Smith, supported by Professor Lisa Jones, one of the UK’s leading experts in Bipolar Disorder, and psychologist Dr Berenice Mahoney. It is being co-funded by the James Wentworth-Stanley Memorial Fund and will provide invaluable insights that could help to shape positive preventative action and support across the higher education sector.

Chantal said: “There is a great deal more to be understood about the incidence and possible causes of suicide amongst students and how best to design effective preventive programmes. We are committed to conducting the best possible research on this vital area as quickly and effectively as possible and are very grateful to the James Wentworth Stanley Memorial Fund for their generous support.”

It is one of two PhD studentships being co-funded by the Fund, which was set up by the family of James Wentworth-Stanley, who took his own life, aged 21, on December 15th 2006.

Professor David Green, Vice Chancellor at the University of Worcester, said: “Student mental health has been a top priority at Worcester since 2004 when we were one of the first universities to appoint specialist mental health counsellors. This is a vital part of a truly inclusive approach to student personal development and achievement. This important report should prompt every university to invest even more in this area and make the promotion of good mental health a mainstream priority.”

Professor Green continued: “There are also implications for the research and education that universities choose to prioritise. In Worcester’s case we actively support colleagues researching in such areas ranging from the causes of Bipolar Disorder to supporting those affected by violence and abuse. Our Mental Health Nursing course is widely considered to be amongst the country’s best and recent years have seen a big development in counselling and social work courses.”