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University of Bristol’s suicide prevention alert used 36 times in first year

The University of Bristol alerted 36 parents about the mental health of their children studying at the institution last year as part of a suicide prevention scheme.

94% of students gave explicit consent at the start of the 2018/19 academic year for authorities to alert a named contact in an emergency, which is known as the Mental Ill Health Emergency Response Protocol.

Mark Ames, Bristol’s director of student services, told The Times: “By taking a wider view of the range of support available to a student, we’re hoping to pick up students in difficulty at an earlier stage and to make sure we’re helping them to draw on as much support available to them.”

The scheme follows from 11 sudden student deaths in two years. Nearly all of these deaths were judged by a coroner to have been suicide.

Bristol was investigated for its care of vulnerable students. Since then, £1 million has been invested in a team of “wellbeing advisors” at the university who are allegedly on hand to support vulnerable students.

James Murray, the father of 19-year-old Bristol student named Ben who committed suicide in May 2018, stated that there is “too little information sharing” between universities and families.

According to the 2019 Student Academic Experience Survey, 66% of students said they want their mental health problems to be shared with a parent or guardian in extreme circumstances, while 18% objected.

Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) Director Nick Hillman said: “Just because you are 18 doesn’t mean you are competent to look after all your own needs yourself and sometimes asking for help is difficult.”

We’re hoping to pick up students in difficulty at an earlier stage and to make sure we’re helping them to draw on as much support available to them

– Mark Ames

Over 95 university students committed suicide in the UK in the 12 months to July 2017. During this period, the number of students accessing mental health support also rose by 76%.

The 2018 Universities UK (UUK) annual conference offered guidance dedicated to suicide prevention, and released the Suicide-Safer Universities guide.

Professor Steve West, vice-chancellor of UWE Bristol and chair of UUK’s Mental Health in Higher Education Advisory Group, stated: “When students take their own lives, it has a profound impact on family, friends, staff and students.”

“This new guide offers practical advice on understanding and preventing suicide, as well as guidance on how best to support those most affected,” he said last year.

We urge university leaders to work with their student support services to develop a strategy which focuses on preventing, intervening, and responding to suicide as part of an overall mental health strategy.”

If you have been affected by the issues discussed in this article, you can contact the University of Warwick’s Wellbeing Support Services, the Samaritans helpline at 116 123 or the Papyrus suicide prevention line at 0800 068 4141.

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