Suicides among children and young adults peak at the beginning of exam season, it has emerged, adding to fears that pressure to get good results is harming their mental health.
Exams are sometimes the final straw that lead to someone under 25 taking their own life, according to a major inquiry. While experts pointed out that the causes of suicide are always complex, they said academic problems could play a significant role.
In England and Wales on average, 96 people aged under 25 take their own lives every year in April and May, while the next highest number – 88 – do so in September, when new students start at university.
Analysis of evidence heard at inquests shows that 63 (43%) of the 145 suicides among those aged under 20 in 2014-15 were experiencing academic pressures of different sorts before their death. Almost one in three – 46 (32%) – had exams at the time, or coming up soon, or were waiting for exam results.
A higher proportion of those aged 20-24 were facing “academic pressures overall” before their death (47%). However, that figure represents seven of the only 15 suicides in that age group among young people who were in education at the time.
Stephen Habgood, the chairman of Papyrus, a charity that tries to prevent under-35s taking their own lives, said youth suicide was a devastating social phenomena.
“We are particularly concerned about the pressures on young students. Transition from a settled home life to university, where young people feel a pressure to succeed, face changes in their circle of friends and feel the impact of financial difficulties, can put extreme pressure on a young person,” Habgood said.
He called on universities to reinstate counselling services for distressed students, which have been cut.
“We know that stress at school has a big impact on mental health, and this research suggests that it can be a significant factor when young people feel suicidal. Although the causes of suicide are multiple and complex, worries around exams can add to the pressure on those who are already struggling to cope,” said Sarah Brennan, the chief executive of Young Minds.
“Ministers should rebalance the education system to ensure that students’ wellbeing is given as much priority as their academic performance,” she added.
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