Exam stress 'among teen suicide causes'

By Michael Buchanan
Social Affairs Correspondent, BBC News


Exam pressures and physical health problems, like acne, are major contributory factors in the suicides of young people, according to research.

Experts at the University of Manchester also found bullying and family bereavement were linked to suicides.

They investigated the suicides of 130 people under 20 in England between January 2014 and April 2015.

In February, figures published by the Office for National Statistics revealed an increase in youth suicides.

There were 201 people aged between 10 and 19 who killed themselves in 2014 in the UK - up from 179 in 2013.

It comes as separate Office for National Statistics figures, published this week, suggested student suicides have risen to their highest level since at least 2007.

Contributory factors

Suicide is the biggest killer of people under the age of 35 in the UK.

However, the research - by the University of Manchester's National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide by People with Mental Illness - is the first time experts have studied the contributory factors on this scale.

Their findings showed:

  • 36% had a physical health condition such as acne or asthma
  • 29% were facing exams or exam results; four died on an exam day or the day after
  • 28% had been bereaved
  • 22% had been bullied, mostly face to face.

The study also found that 23% had used the internet in relation to suicide - including searching for methods or posting suicidal thoughts.

Case Study: 'Bullies broke my mind 100 times'

media captionEleni Delacour says she was 10 when she first tried to "end it all"

Eleni Delacour has depression and borderline personality disorder. But the main reason the 22-year-old has attempted suicide on 14 occasions is bullying.

"I got bullied as long as I can remember - both emotional and physical bullying," she says.

"I've had my tendon snapped, my nose broken twice, my mind broken a hundred times."

Her first suicide attempt was when she was 10. "When enough people tell you something about yourself that's bad, you start to think it too," she says.

"You get told you're worthless to the point you think you're worthless. And then you don't want to feel it anymore and the only way you can stop it is to end it all. "

Speaking about the report's findings, lead researcher Professor Louis Appleby said: "There are often family problems such as drug misuse or domestic violence and more recent stresses such as bullying or bereavement, leading to a 'final straw' factor such as an exam or relationship breakdown."

"I think the numbers are the tip of the iceberg," says Ged Flynn, chief executive of Papyrus, an anti-suicide charity.

Its support service, Hopeline UK, has seen a large rise in contacts from young people and parents in recent years, quadrupling since 2013.

It says that most of the calls, texts and emails it receives relate to exam stresses.

"I think the pressure on young people in increasing," says Mr Flynn. "Peer pressure - from family, teachers and friends - has always been there, but it does seem to be increasing.

"And I think the need to be liked, the need to be popular, the need to be happy, is fairly universal. And it's unrealistic."

Case Study: 'A catastrophic decision'

image copyrightFalconer family

Morgan Falconer was known as Tigger - a bright, enthusiastic, inquisitive, tactile boy. With no warning however, the 15-year-old killed himself last May.

He had spoken to his friends about feeling pressure over his upcoming GCSE exams but his father Stuart says the family will never know what drove him to end his own life.

"I can't - hand on heart - say anything was a concern," says Stuart. "He should be here today, of that I have absolutely no doubt.

"It was a consequence of things that built up in his brain, which led him to making a catastrophic decision that couldn't be turned back.

"If he'd known what he'd left behind, he wouldn't have done it. If he'd seen the outpouring of grief at his funeral, he wouldn't have done it."

His father has now set up a charity The Ollie Foundation to give teachers suicide awareness training.

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