Sue Bristol
Image: Eirian Evans

Parents of a student who took her own life are suing Bristol University

The parents of Natasha Abrahart, a second year physics student who took her own life in April 2018, are suing the University of Bristol.

They believe that the institution “failed in its legal duties” to protect Natasha from psychological harm.

Natasha’s parents believe that the 20-year-old took her own life because of the social anxiety disorder she was experiencing down to “discrimination” by the university.

The initial inquest found the university not to be responsible and a spokeswoman from Bristol said that staff had tried to help her. 

The inquest in 2019 found that the Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership Trust (AWP) “significantly underestimated” her condition and failed to provide care for her. 

Two opportunities were missed to care for Natasha, and she was provided with the antidepressant Sertraline without any follow-up care. 

Her parents commented that “Natasha became acutely and increasingly distressed” as “the fear of failing, not performing, or not progressing on the course affected her”.

Our daughter came to Bristol seeking a better, brighter future. Instead we lost her forever

– Natasha’s parents

Julia Kerry, Director of Nursing at the Trust, said “we are deeply sorry for Natasha’s death” and they “recognise that we did not act in accordance to the best practice in all of the care provided to Natasha”.

The Senior Coroner did not find evidence of the university failing to provide care, but Natasha was found dead in her flat just before she was due to attend a conference in which she would have to give a presentation to over fifty students in a large lecture theatre.

Her parents assert that the university didn’t do enough to support Natasha after she was diagnosed with “chronic social anxiety with suicidal ideation” and “instead the university continued to put her through the ordeal of oral assessments”.

The case has been filed with Bristol County Court under the 2010 Equality Act. Gus Silverman, the lawyer representing the family, insists that “the university owed Natasha legal duties not to cause her psychological harm”.

“Our daughter came to Bristol seeking a better, brighter future. Instead we lost her forever,” Natasha’s parents said.  

Natasha is just one of the 11 students at Bristol who took their own lives between 2016-2018. 

There are currently no national studies carried out into suicides by students at UK universities, but many institutions have launched their own individual programmes to support students suffering from poor mental health.

For anyone who has been affected by the issues raised in this article, there are lots of places you can turn to for help and support. Warwick Wellbeing Support Services are available through the Wellbeing Portal, online or over the phone. NHS Coventry and Warwickshire Partnership Trust are offering online or over the phone urgent support for anyone suffering from mental health issues. More information can be found on their website. Charities such as MIND also have information, guidance and support available online.

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