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Father of Bristol student who took his own life says universities need to change their approach to pastoral care

Credit: Family

The father of a student who took his own life says universities need to change their approach to pastoral care.

19-year-old Ben Murray was studying English at the University of Bristol when he died last year.

Today a coroner issued a series of recommendations to all universities, which have been welcomed by Ben's father James.

A has coroner issued a series of recommendations to all universities. Credit: ITV West Country

Mr Murray - who is from Falmouth, said that he was "very pleased" with the actions taken by the university since Ben's death.

As a family we can now start to move on to a new normality with the knowledge that Ben's death can contribute to the prevention of suicides in the future.

– James Murray

Despite the coroner also praising the university's changes, Mr Murray says institutions across the country must do more.

The coroner says she will be writing to the Department of Education and UCAS to recommend changes to the UCAS application form making it easier for students to disclose mental health issues.

Professor Sarah Purdy, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Student Experience at the University of Bristol, said:

"Any student death is a tragedy that hits at the very heart of our community.

"We are very sorry that Ben’s family feel that the support the University offered to Ben was not enough and we really want to understand how we can give the best possible support when students need help.

“Mental health is fast emerging as one of the biggest public health issues affecting young people in the UK and globally – not just those studying at University.

“This was identified as a key priority by the University in its strategy more than two years ago and work has been underway to introduce a whole-institution approach to mental health and wellbeing with additional investment in the support we provide our students in their accommodation, in academic schools and through central support services.

“At the start of the year we launched our own Student Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy, which outlines this whole-institution approach to student support and the steps we have taken to expand our student support provision.

“We are extremely grateful to Ben’s father James who has worked with us and our national body Universities UK since Ben’s tragic death to develop a Suicide Safer Strategy for universities. This is being adopted nationally to ensure measures are put in place to provide the best possible support and early intervention measures for students.

“We introduced an ‘opt-in’ policy at the start of this academic year which means we can inform a student’s trusted named contact if we have serious concerns about their welfare. This consent can be given or withdrawn by the student at any time during the year. 94 per cent of our students signed up to this at the start of the year.

“We are also piloting a new process for students required to withdraw from their studies, as was the case with Ben. This was first used after the February Exam Boards this year and means students who are about to be withdrawn are contacted and invited to a meeting with staff from both the academic school and our wellbeing team to explain the decision and the options available for the student.

“We are also committed to ongoing in-depth reviews of all serious incidents and tragedies, so we can continue to challenge ourselves to improve our processes, procedures and support on an ongoing basis.

“Like all universities, schools and colleges, we are deeply concerned by the increase of mental health issues amongst our young people nationally. Complex mental health challenges cannot be addressed by universities alone, and we cannot be expected to replace the NHS.

“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.”