Credit: Dora Dziki

PhD students are ‘high risk’ of suicide according to new research

By Zein Al-Maha Oweis

The study shows that four in 10 PhD students are classed as “high risk”.

CW: Suicide 

A study on chronic illnesses amongst doctoral students, carried out by researchers at the Universities of Sussex and Westminister, shows that four in 10 UK PhD students are at “high risk” of suicide. The study highlights loneliness and intellectual insecurity as the two main reasons for the spike in suicide amongst doctorial students. 

The study also found that one in five PhD students had a plan to kill themselves whilst 8% had actually tried to kill themselves throughout the last year. Furthermore, 11% of PhD students have confided in an academic that they have often thought about committing suicide five times in the span of the past year with 5.6% often considering taking their own lives three or four times throughout the year.

Anxiety at finding a job following their studies has also been found to place doctoral students under pressure.  One of the participants noted that “a PhD can kill you” whilst another mentioned that they considered taking their own life as a way to “punish my supervisor and the postdoc [researcher] who has made my life miserable”. 

Dr. Cassie Hazell, one of the authors of the study and a clinical psychology lecturer at Westminster University told Times Higher Education that there is an “urgent need for universities to acknowledge the presence of suicide risk among doctoral researchers. This is a really serious issue and potentially a life and death situation.”

Dr. Karen Clegg, Head of Research Excellence Training at the University of York emphasises: “There is a duty of care on institutions to ensure that doctoral candidates and supervisors who guide them have sufficient support but the data suggests that this is, at best, patchy and, in many places, non-existent.” 


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