A grieving mother is calling for better support for students after her son asked for help from his university before taking his own life.
Charlie, 25, was studying computer science at Aberystwyth University when during his second year, she says he became withdrawn.
When Charlie stopped replying to his mother Emma's messages earlier this year, she suspected he was busy with a project deadline.
"I'd left him a message a couple of days earlier telling him I was going to contact the university if he didn't reply and it got to Friday afternoon when I just had the overwhelming sense that something really bad had happened.
"I called Charlie's dad and asked him to phone the university".
That phone call confirmed Emma's worst fears. Charlie had taken his own life in his accommodation in February of this year.
Emma believes days earlier, the second year student had admitted himself to A&E as a result of his mental health before attending a counselling session with the university's wellbeing service, where he revealed he was feeling suicidal.
However, none of this was communicated to Charlie's family until after his body was discovered - and even now mum Emma said they are having to fight for answers about the circumstances surrounding his death.
While the university said it stayed in touch with Charlie throughout the year, Emma, from Hampshire, said its wellbeing services failed in their duty of care to Charlie after he said he was feeling suicidal, with his case not dealt with the appropriate support nor urgency.
She is now campaigning for improvements to be made to services like these across the country, in honour of her "intelligent, kind and gentle" son, the loss of whom she is still coming to terms with.
"He was so kind and gentle and had such a witty, dry sense of humour", Emma said.
"He was the artistic type but also very academic with an eagerness to learn, always with his nose in a book. In fact, he could read one for hours and absorb its contents right away.""He had a great first year," she said. "He was loving it and would come home and tell me all about these projects he was working on, showing me the coding systems and all that. I had to tell him: Charlie, I have no idea what you're talking about!"But after Charlie started his second year, Emma soon began to notice a change in her son's behaviour and said he became a lot more withdrawn and kept telling his family he was busy."He had this project that he was working on and it was always on his mind. He was so focused on getting that done and would always hurry back to his room to keep working on it.
After Charlie went back to university in the New Year, he told his mother he was feeling low.
"I told him to call me and we could talk it through and I ended up leaving him a message on a Wednesday evening. Two days later his body was discovered."
Charlie's death left Emma wanting answers and said she was met with a "condescending tone" when she met with the university about what happened. "Nothing seemed to add up and they got on the defensive whenever I questioned whether they knew about his hospital visit and things like that," she claimed. "It didn't give me confidence at all.""It breaks my heart knowing Charlie took himself to hospital that night," she added. "He was a private and proud person and I know that would have taken a lot for him to have done that. He was crying out for help, clearly. I just wish we could have known at the time - it could have all been so different".With an inquest into Charlie's death due to be held later this year, Emma and Charlie's friends are calling on Aberystwyth and other universities across the UK to improve the way their wellbeing services handle cases like his.
The Charlie Asked For Help campaign, started in his memory, aims to make sure students get the help they need while struggling with their mental health."We have to try and turn this tragedy into a positive," she said. "On behalf of all the students who are still coming forward with terrible stories about their wellbeing and how they have been treated by universities. It's not just Aberystwyth by any means, the same story is happening across the UK and we need to give these students voices.""Charlie asked for help and he didn't get it. Sadly, it's too late for him but we are going to keep making noise and push for changes to stop the same thing happening to other students. If we can do that, then my son's death has not been for nothing."An Aberystwyth University spokesperson said:
Those affected by this tragedy are in our thoughts and have our deepest sympathies at what is a very difficult time. Our student support team have been in close contact with, and supporting, the friends and family of Charlie.
While we cannot go into individual circumstances, our Student Wellbeing team were in contact with Charlie throughout the 22/23 academic year, with the aim of providing direct support as well as linking to statutory NHS health and mental health services where appropriate. We remain in discussion with Charlie’s friends and family to ensure that all relevant circumstances receive the fullest possible consideration.
“Our multi-disciplinary professional team supports nearly a thousand students a year, with many provided with one-to-one wellbeing sessions with our qualified practitioners according to their individual needs. Listening and acting on feedback from our students on this service is very important to us, and we have recently been developing our provision in light of wider sector developments in this area. As a university we offer extensive welfare services that include offering help and support to those in need, and facilitating access to specialist statutory services where appropriate.
The spokesperson added: "We continuously review our processes and update our practices, including drawing on external advice and evolving best practice, to ensure that our students have access to the best support possible. This can be through in-house provision, via external specialist organisations or statutory services. Our support staff also meet with students to discuss their views and suggestions as we continue to respond to developments in this important area of work. This is part of our ongoing commitment to ensuring our services are in line with the best practice in the sector.”
If you have been affected by anything in this article then the Samaritans are there 24/7 to provide support and advice. Call 116 123 for free.