The parents of a Bristol University student who took her own life last year on the day she was due to make a public presentation are taking legal action against the university.
Natasha Abrahart, a 20-year-old physics student who passed away on the day of her oral exam, had warned tutors beforehand that she suffered with anxiety and panic attacks over the oral presentations, and had been prescribed an antidepressant.
Her parents, Robert and Margaret Abrahart, said in a statement that their daughter was terrified of being kicked out of the university because of her anxiety impeding her in these examinations.
Mr and Mrs Abrahart added that the university should have acknowledged her condition and her difficulties in making public presentations and that it had six months to make other arrangements.
They said they are taking legal action against the university because “Bristol are not listening to us. They do not accept there is a problem.”
Bristol are not listening to us. They do not accept there is a problem
– Mr and Mrs Abrahart
An inquest underlined that Ms Abrahart’s death was partly a result of neglect by mental health services after there were delays with her being seen and her medication was not reviewed properly.
The coroner found a “gross failure” to provide care, which “significantly underestimated” Ms Abrahart’s condition by the Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust.
Julie Kerry, director of nursing at the Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust, said: “We are deeply sorry for Natasha’s death and…offer our sincere condolences to her family.
“We fully accept the findings of the coroner, and recognise that we did not act in accordance to best practice in all of the care provided to Natasha.”
Following the inquest, Bristol University said in a statement: “Staff in the School, along with colleagues from Student Services, tried very hard to help Natasha, both with her ongoing studies and with her mental health and wellbeing needs. This was highlighted and acknowledged during the inquest, with the coroner finding no fault with the University.
“We are very sad that these efforts could not help prevent her tragic death.”
We fully accept the findings of the coroner, and recognise that we did not act in accordance to best practice in all of the care provided to Natasha
– Julie Kerry, director of nursing at the Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust
They added: “We are, however, fully committed to working with our partners in the NHS, charities and across the HE sector in a collaborative effort to ensure we are providing the best possible support to our students” and “the steps we are taking are part of a journey that will evolve over time”.
Mrs Abrahart said that she gets “really angry” when institutions offer “bland statements claiming they did everything they could to help”.
“It’s almost as though the death of a student, the life of a student doesn’t matter. It’s more important that they portray the right image,” she said.
Ms Abrahart is one of 12 students that have taken or suspected to have taken their own lives at Bristol University since October 2016.
Helen Goodman, Labour MP for Bishop Auckland, branded the university “callous” over its handling of the situation.
She said that the university could have given her a written exam: “She was evidently good at exams because she got into Bristol University to study physics, yet because they were so bone-headed and insistent on those assessments, they turned somebody who was a success into somebody who felt she was a failure.”
If you have been affected by the issues addressed in this article, helplines such as the Samaritans hotline (116123) and Warwick’s Wellbeing Support Services (024 7657 5570) are available. International helplines can also be found at www.befrienders.org.