Five higher education students per week attempt suicide

Summary

Students in higher education in Flanders account for a disproportionate number of suicide attempts in the region, the result of social isolation and facing new challenges for the first time, says UGent

New challenges

In 2014, 276 students in higher education in Flanders attempted to take their own lives, according to the annual report published by the Unit for Suicide Research at Ghent University (UGent). On average, about five students per week try to commit suicide.

The UGent researchers analysed the registration data of 37 hospitals with an emergency department. Higher education students accounted for 13.3% of 2,071 registered suicide attempts, a higher percentage than in the previous years. It is also a disproportionate figure, as only 3.6% of Flanders’ 6.4 million residents were enrolled in higher education in 2014.

“Youngsters between 15 and 19 years old and higher education students run the biggest risk,” UGent researcher Gwendolyn Portzky told De Morgen. “That’s often because they have certain bad experiences for the first time, like the break-up of a relationship or poor exam results. They often don’t know how to deal with these problems, or they don’t have a sense that they will get over them.”

Students are very sensitive to social exclusion as well, she said. Being bullied, for example, can play a big role in suicidal thoughts. Teenagers can also become socially isolated when living in a student room without a social network.

People younger than about 23 are furthermore more likely to attempt suicide impulsively because their the parts of the brain responsible for taking rational decisions is not yet fully developed, the study said.

Over the last few years, Flemish universities and colleges have been investing more in psychosocial assistance and devoting more attention to suicide prevention.

Photo: An orientation event for international students at UGent
© Hilde Christiaens / UGent