suicideInterventions aimed at preventing suicide among students must be designed separately for males and females, according to researchers.

Researchers at Leeds Beckett University, led by Dr Katie Dhingra, senior lecturer in criminological psychology, sampled the views of more than 1,000 university students and found females had significantly higher levels of suicidal thoughts (68%) than males (54%).

The study, published in Suicidology Online, set out to examine potential gender differences in students’ suicidal thoughts over a 2-week period, as well as exploring the relationship between interpersonal beliefs and behaviour and suicide.

Results revealed that having high levels of emotional stability was a preventative factor for males and females. But defeat, goal disengagement and depression were independently associated with suicidal thoughts in males but not females. By contrast, entrapment, perceived burdensomeness, and hopelessness were significant risk factors only in females. 

In addition, 33% of participants had made at least one suicide attempt in their lives.

“In the UK we know that around 6,000 individuals die by suicide each year, and for every death there are approximately 25 suicide attempts,” said Dr Dhingra. “Suicide is also a leading cause of death among university students; and in this study we set out to better understand the psychological processes that underpin suicidal thoughts in both males and females to allow us to develop more effective interventions that address suicidal thoughts before they progress to a suicide attempt.

“Previous research has shown that men are significantly more likely to die by suicide; but women are more likely to have suicidal thoughts. Our results suggest the need to develop and provide separate interventions for males and females aimed at different factors. For men this can include helping them to engage with new, more realistic positive thinking, whilst for women strategies that target feelings of entrapment and burdensomeness may be more appropriate.

“Our results also suggest that university students may not feel that they can approach or access support from others during times of suicidal crisis and therefore give us real insight as we design more effective and targeted prevention and invention strategies.”