Suicide in a National Student Mental Health Patient Population, 1997–2012

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Abstract

Background: Entering higher education is a time of transition that coincides with the typical age of onset of serious mental illness. Awareness of the distinguishing characteristics of students with mental illness who die by suicide may inform clinical management. Aim: We aimed to compare the characteristics of mental health patients who died by suicide as students with other young people who died by suicide. Method: UK data were analyzed for individuals aged 18–35 years in contact with mental health services who died by suicide from 1997 to 2012. Univariate analyses examined the sociodemographic, behavioral, and clinical features of those who died as students. Backward stepwise regression analysis identified factors independently associated with student deaths. Results: In all, 214 university students died by suicide within 12 months of mental health service contact. Factors associated with student deaths were: being younger, female, from an ethnic minority group, and a primary diagnosis of affective disorder. Medication nonadherence was less likely to be associated with student deaths. Conclusion: Deaths by suicide are split almost equally between male and female students, unlike the predominance of male suicide in the general population. There are clear differences in the characteristics of the student and nonstudent groups, although causation could not be established.

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