A coroner has called for universities to destigmatise mental health issues after concluding that a student took his own life after facing dismissal from his course and the prospect of losing his accommodation.
First-year Bristol University student Ben Murray, 19, fell from a bridge after receiving a note telling him he was going to be dismissed for missing lectures and an exam.
The senior coroner Maria Voisin said that more work needed to be done to make sure students felt they could declare their mental health issues without fear of missing out on a place at university.
Murray, who was studying English, is one of 12 students at Bristol who have killed themselves or are suspected of taking their own lives since September 2016.
During his inquest at Avon coroner’s court, Murray’s parents, James and Janet, said the university had failed their son.
They believe Murray was troubled and asked for help from the university but nobody saw him face to face to address his concerns.
On Thursday, Voisin ruled that Ben died from multiple injuries as a result of suicide. She said: “It is clear from the act that lead to Ben’s death that he intended to take his life.
“There were a number of issues in his personal life that support this evidence. His place had been withdrawn and he owed a significant debt for his accommodation.
“I will be writing to Bristol University, the Department for Education, the minister of suicide prevention [Jackie Doyle-Price] and Ucas [which helps process university applications].”
The coroner continued: “Bristol University have clearly made many fundamental changes to their practices since Ben’s death, and they should be praised for that. But there needs to be a move towards de-stigmatising mental health.
“Currently, only 37% of students [with a mental health issue] disclose it on their Ucas form or to their uni. More students need to be assured that disclosing this will not affect their place.”
Murray died last year soon after being sent a letter and an email threatening him with dismissal for his poor attendance.
His father has been working with the university on the issue. After the inquest he said: ‘‘A truly compassionate community is trained to spot the signs, encourage disclosure and intervene early to give hope to those in distress.
“Bristol are on that path. The true test of safety will come with time. If Bristol and other universities commit to continuous improvement they will surely have the best chance of becoming suicide-safer.”
Prof Sarah Purdy, pro vice-chancellor for student experience at the university, said: “Any student death is a tragedy that hits at the very heart of our community. We are very sorry that Ben’s family feel that the support the university offered to Ben was not enough and we really want to understand how we can give the best possible support when students need help.
“Mental health is fast emerging as one of the biggest public health issues affecting young people in the UK and globally – not just those studying at university.
“This was identified as a key priority by the university in its strategy more than two years ago and work has been under way to introduce a whole-institution approach to mental health and wellbeing.”
New measures include a system that means the university can inform a student’s trusted named contact if it has serious concerns about their welfare.
It is also piloting a new process for students required to withdraw from their studies, as was the case with Murray. Students who are about to be withdrawn are contacted and invited to a meeting with staff from both the academic school and a wellbeing team to explain the decision and the options available.
In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.