Universities will now have to tell parents if students are struggling with their mental health

174 students died by suicide in England and Wales in 2019

Universities should now inform parents if they are concerned about a student’s mental health, according to new suicide prevention guidance from the Office for Students.

There were 174 student suicides in England and Wales in 2019, says The Office for National Statistics, with over two-thirds of these students not previously known to campus support services.

Bereaved parents have been campaigning for better knowledge of warning signs for years. One of these parents is James Murray, whose son, Ben, died aged 19 whilst at Bristol University. Ben was essentially kicked out of uni via a letter, after missing lectures, falling behind with work. His father, James, only found out about this after he had died.


James, left, and his son Ben, right

With this new guidance, the Office for Students has asked universities to create policies on sharing information with family and friends where there is a significant risk of self-harm or suicide.

The Information Commissioner also said fears about breaching data protection laws should not stop staff from sharing their concerns.

25 UK unis are already operating an “opt in” system, where students allow staff to contact parents or another trusted adult with well-being concerns. This new guidance is asking unis to always communicate with parents if there is a suicide concern.

In guidance published online, the Office for Students said suicide prevention requires a “strategic joined-up approach” involving security, catering and domestic services as well as lecturers and support staff, thus “making suicide prevention an institutional priority”.

Parents have long-called for more support to help prevent campus suicides. However, one obstacle is that students are classed as adults, who may have their own reasons for not wanting certain adult family members informed.

James Murray, Ben’s father, has since launched a service for university students, Kooth, which promises access to qualified counsellors for students, funded by the NHS.

New guidance states that Universities UK is “developing a consensus statement and guidance on when and how information should be shared with family and friends when students are at risk of serious self harm or suicide”. It will set out that “where there is genuine concern for the safety of the student, it is good practice to involve family and friends in their support”.

It adds that “any decision to involve wider networks without the specific consent of the student at risk must be based on appropriate clinical judgment”.

If you or someone you know has been affected by this story, please speak to someone or contact Samaritans on 116 123 at any time. You can also contact Anxiety UK on 03444 775 774, Mind on 0300 123 3393, and Calm (Campaign against living miserably, for men aged 15 to 35) on 0800 58 58 58. 

Featured image by Fizkes/Shutterstock

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