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Who is responsible for making our universities suicide safe?

Start date

February 2024

End date

June 2024


Over the last decade, 1,330 Higher Education students have taken their own lives. In the three years preceding the COVID-19 pandemic, 319 students died by suicide  – this is equivalent to one student dying every 4 days. 
The role that universities play in student suicide has been under the spotlight recently with the landmark court case of Abrahart versus University of Bristol. Universities undoubtedly have a duty of care to their students, including their mental well-being and play a significant role in creating an environment that can either support or exacerbate mental health issues. 
It's important to recognize that mental health is influenced by a variety of factors, and universities alone cannot address all the underlying causes of student suicide. Factors such as academic pressure, social isolation, financial stress, and difficulties in accessing mental health services can all contribute to the mental health challenges students face. However, universities can take steps to mitigate these factors by providing adequate mental health support services, fostering a supportive community, raising awareness about mental health issues, and promoting a culture of well-being. 
A recent parliamentary debate concluded that universities already had a “general duty of care” but did not provide any further detail on what this entails and a subsequent recommendation made by Student Minds, the UK’s largest student mental health charity, suggests there is a real need for universities to clarify the responsibilities staff have in relation to student wellbeing and duty of care.
Creating a suicide-safe environment requires a multifaceted approach that addresses both individual and systemic factors contributing to mental health challenges among students. By working together, staff, students, parents and support organisations can help ensure that universities are supportive and conducive to the well-being of all students. 
Dr Cassie Hazell at the University of Surrey has been awarded ESRC IAA funding to deliver a Public and Patient Involvement (PPI) exercise with key stakeholders including University staff, affected families and mental health organisations, which through a variety of tangible outputs, will help inform the ongoing debate around how we make universities suicide safe, and lay the foundations for a larger research project in this area. 
This project will build on Dr Hazell and her team's existing programme of research, funded by the Office for Students on the mental health of students, which has already attracted media attention and been mentioned in specific university policy documents and reports. 


Planned Impact

The team’s overall goal is to produce a consensus statement to compliment the Suicide Safer guidelines with specific instruction on the roles and responsibilities of those in and around universities in supporting suicidal students.  
Ahead of applying for a larger research grant to fully answer the question of who is responsible for making our universities suicide safe, it is imperative that they are able to engage in in-depth stakeholder involvement to explore the issues further from a lived experience perspective and understand what is important to all stakeholders when planning a wider research project. 
The project will also enable consolidation of connections and networks with stakeholder organisations which will support the delivery of impact outcomes and outcomes from this ongoing work and future projects in related areas. The project will also give stakeholders an opportunity to provide their views on an important and sensitive topic and connect with others who have a similar lived experience.   

Stakeholder groups will include: 

  • Bereaved family and friends who lost someone to suicide while that person was a student.  
  • Adults with lived experience of feeling suicidal and/or suicide attempts. 
  • Students with lived experience of mental health difficulties and/or distress. 
  • University staff that have supported suicidal students. 

Planned Outputs