A University of Bristol student who died suddenly in April had no direct contact with the institution’s welfare support service, despite telling a staff member she had attempted to take her own life, a court has heard.
Natasha Abrahart, a 20-year-old physics students, died in April and police said at the time there were no suspicious circumstances. At least 10 other University of Bristol students have died in suspected suicides since October 2016.
She is said to have told an administrator in an email two months before she died: “I wanted to tell you the last few days have been really hard. I’ve been having suicidal thoughts and to a certain degree [I have] attempted”.
Natasha’s parents Robert, a former university academic, and Margaret, who has worked as a mental health practitioner in the NHS, said through lawyers at a pre-inquest review on Wednesday that they were concerned about the university’s actions in the lead up to their daughter’s death.
The coroner is now reviewing evidence regarding the university’s welfare policies and has agreed to do that urgently, before the start of the new academic year next month, in case it raises concerns which require intervention.
Tom Stoate, a barrister representing the Abraharts, told Avon Coroner’s Court that despite the email suggesting the university was “on notice” of Natasha’s poor mental health she did not have direct contact with the institution’s vulnerable student support service.
On its website, the university described the service, since renamed “student wellbeing”, as a department which “coordinates support” for its “most vulnerable students”.
Stoate said that the Abraharts had since been told by the university that it has not changed any policies or procedures following Natasha’s death.
Stoate appealed to the coroner for Avon, Maria Voisin, to consider at a full inquest how the university acted upon any concerns about Natasha.
At the hearing, Voisin also requested evidence from Natasha’s most recent GP practice and from Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust, whose care Natasha was also in.
The University of Bristol was represented by Keith Feeney, who told Voisin that the university would comply with her requests for evidence.
A university spokesperson said ahead of the hearing: “We offer our sincere sympathies to Natasha’s family following her tragic death and will co-operate fully with the Coroner to ensure any lessons learnt are built into the support we provide our students.
“Mental health and wellbeing is fast emerging as the single biggest public health issue affecting young people today, both here in the UK and globally. We are taking every step we can, to work with our students to help them build the life-skills and resilience to cope with the pressures they face, and to identify vulnerable students as early as possible so we can support them with their mental health issues.
“Our whole-institution approach will help us reach out to our students more proactively. We are putting in place a structure of preventative services and policies to try and avoid our students reaching crisis point.
“Mental health leads from the NHS and Public Health England are actively engaged in the planning and development of this approach.”
A further pre-inquest review hearing is planned for later this year, which is expected to consider whether a jury should be called to hear evidence at a full inquest, and whether Natasha’s death potentially contravened Article 2 of the Human Rights Act, which protects the “right to life”.
The full inquest into Natasha’s death is expected to take place next spring.
Useful websites and helplines:
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org