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BACKGROUND: The aim was to determine the extent, characteristics and timing of suicide in Oxford University students. METHOD: Students who died from suicide or undetermined cause between October 1976 and September 1990 were identified through University records and individual colleges. Information about each student was sought from coroners, college staff, general practitioners and hospital case notes. RESULTS: There were 21 suicides (16 men and 5 women) and one open verdict (female). The observed number of suicides (O) was greater than the number expected (E = 11.09) on the basis of mortality statistics for England and Wales (O/E = 1.89; 95% CI 1.17 to 2.90). When deaths due to undetermined cause were included, however, the difference between O and E (17.03) was much reduced (O/E = 1.29; 95% CI 0.81 to 1.95). There was no evidence of an association with the Finals examination but two-thirds of the students had been worried about academic achievement or their courses. Nearly half appeared to have had a psychiatric disorder (mostly depression). CONCLUSIONS: The much publicised apparent excess of Oxford University student suicides may be partly artefactual. Measures for preventing student suicides include careful induction upon arrival at university, means of alleviating academic stress and worries, and readily available and closely associated student counselling and psychiatric services.

Original publication




Journal article


Br J Psychiatry

Publication Date





44 - 50


Cause of Death, Counseling, Cross-Cultural Comparison, Cross-Sectional Studies, Depressive Disorder, England, Female, Humans, Incidence, Interpersonal Relations, Male, Personality Disorders, Risk Factors, Social Support, Students, Suicide