In 2016, 146 students in England and Wales committed suicide, a 94.6% increase from 75 students in 2007 (Office of National Statistics). The university mental health crisis is real and it is growing. Yet in its wake, universities and colleges seem to be frozen in fear with very few rushing to collect any data about these issues. Royal Holloway is one of them.
Whilst mental health difficulties present in many more ways than the few who do die by suicide each year, keeping the statistics of how many students complete suicide is important. It illustrates the number of students in severe crisis and allows students to hold their universities accountable for better mental health service provisions as a result.
The RHUL Mental Health Network submitted a Freedom of Information request to Royal Holloway asking for data on how many students had completed suicide over the last seven years. They responded that they did not keep this data. In response, the RHUL Mental Health Network submitted Freedom of Information requests to seven other University of London colleges asking for their data on the amount of students dying by suicide each year. All but one college did not keep the data, most justified this by the fact that universities do not receive a coroner’s report after a student death and receive little information about the circumstances surrounding their death.
However, University College London (UCL) reported that, although they have no specific reporting system on student suicide, since 2014 they have kept a record of suspected suicides through the student wellbeing team who talk to close relatives or friends of the deceased.
In 2014, Cameron Grant, a student at Royal Holloway, completed suicide weeks after his 21st birthday. In response, his parents established the Cameron Grant Memorial Trust who work across hundreds of UK universities advertising student support services in his memory. Disappointingly, Royal Holloway, even after championing the Cameron Grant Memorial Trust and awarding a plaque in Cameron’s name each year, have chosen not to hold the suicide statistic.
By not holding the suicide statistic, Royal Holloway and universities across the UK can fly under the radar and avoid answering tough questions about the nature of mental health crisis on their campus.
Holding the suicide statistic isn’t always easy, it involves keeping track of student deaths and relying on families to disclose information to the student wellbeing team. But it is possible and it is important to keep. Without it, Cameron’s death and, inevitably, the death of others on this campus can be ignored. It is only by holding data do we, as students, have the agency to stand up and demand for better mental health services.
By not holding the suicide statistic, Royal Holloway and universities across the UK can fly under the radar and avoid answering tough questions about the nature of mental health crisis on their campus. It isn’t enough to work with charities like the Cameron Grant Memorial Trust and then not take vital steps to collect the data that would examine the extent of the mental health crisis at Royal Holloway.
We will never know how many students have completed suicide at Royal Holloway, but we can ask the college to be held accountable now. Today, you can join the RHUL Mental Health Network in asking Royal Holloway College to begin taking steps towards holding the student suicide statistic. Visit the RHUL Mental Health Network page on Facebook for more information.
Helen Groenendaal, Head of Student Wellbeing and Safeguarding at Royal Holloway, University of London, responded:
“There have not been any student deaths on the Royal Holloway campus in over a decade. We do not provide student suicide statistics as we are not privy to details of inquests when a student dies away from the campus and as we are respectful of the privacy many families request in the event of an unexpected death.”