Would universities call parents in a mental health crisis?

“I knocked on the door at 2.45am,” Lee Fryatt said.

It was the police. Her son Daniel, a 19-year-old student at Bath Spa University, had committed suicide.

“What you learn when you have lost a loved one in suicide is that it is the only people who have ever understood you who come to understand how bad that is.

“I explained it as the grief turned to the max, to the point that it separated your ears.”
Lee Fryatt
Former police chief Lee Fryatt wants universities to warn parents if there is a mental health problem

Mr Fryatt, a former police officer who lived in Bournemouth, says what motivates him now is to try to prevent further student suicide.

He also believes that when students have a mental health problem, universities should be more willing to contact parents, or another trusted adult – and at least give them a chance to help.

“Like many parents, I was the one who finally realized that there was a problem, until it was too late.

“I truly believe that if I had been told, Daniel would not have died that day.”
Bad thought

It may surprise and shock some parents that they will not be affected if their son or daughter faces serious health problems at university.

“I thought that, wrongly, if I was told to worry about his well-being, I would be told about it, I would be warned,” said Mr Fryatt, especially since his son had informed the university of previous mental health problems. .

Do universities do enough to look after students?
Can universities contact parents with a mental health problem?
Students want parents to be told if they fear mental health?

It is a problem that has been raised over and over again following student suicide – so often that you will be forgiven for thinking it has already been dealt with.
Ceara Thackerimage copyrightFamily Thackerimage
Ceara Thacker’s parents think they should have been touched by her problems

The parents of Ceara Thacker, a student who committed suicide at the University of Liverpool in 2018, are confused that no one informed them of a previous suicide attempt three months ago.

“As long as I’m alive, I will never understand why no one at the university answered the phone nokuthi and told us that our 19-year-old daughter was in the hospital after an overdose,” said her father. Iain, when asked.
Keeping private

There have been repeated suggestions for an “entry” program – where students can choose, or refuse, to allow universities to contact a parent, or other trusted adult, if there are serious problems with their well-being.

It can be voluntary – because there may be strong personal reasons a student does not want their parents to be involved – and it is important that universities respect the privacy of adult students.
Ceara Thackerimage copyright FAMILY HANDOUT
photo captionIain with her daughter Ceara: “I will never understand why no one at university answered the phone”

But it could be the backup of the students they wanted, giving permission first at the beginning of each year – and at the University of Bristol, where it was introduced, more than 90% of students enrolled.

However, 90% of the university sector does not offer such a choice – or 50% – and in fact, it is not clear at all what many universities offer in such cases.

“Universities have been kicking the issue out now for years. They’ve been rowing around and they haven’t moved on. It’s time they did it,” Mr Fryatt said.

“My experience as a parent is that nothing is obvious.

“Universities like to say things like ‘mental health is everyone’s business’. But if you’re a parent, it doesn’t seem to be your business,” he said.
Short introductory line

In 2018, the year Mr. Fryatt’s son died, it seemed that a tense system of communication with parents was under way.

The then university minister Sam Gyimah spoke out in support of the admission process so that students could give permission to contact “parents or a trusted person”, warning students who could “fall into the cracks and feel frustrated in their new environment”.

This was reinforced by the then education secretary Damian Hinds, who wrote to university leaders urging them to improve access to families, as the first line of a new mental health program.
Sam Gyimah
Sam Gyimah, Minister of Universities, raised the issue of parenting three years ago

Many students also support this view. In 2019, a large annual survey from the Higher Education Policy Institute found that most students agree with the policy of universities that communicate with parents.

The director of the institute, Nick Hillman, thinks the universities are amazed at the potential for student-family support – and that this would be a huge boost if the epidemic did not intervene.

But how much has changed?

The issue of student suicide is not over. The annual statistics of the National Bureau of Statistics from 2019, show that 174 students from England and Wales have taken their lives.

But there doesn’t seem to be a clear picture of how widely the entry system is likely to be accepted – or much more clarity about what parents can expect to be told.

The University of England’s student body, the Student Office, says that “individual universities have a responsibility to make their own mental health policies” – and they do not have the whole view.

A drawing of a man with his head in his hands

UK universities say it’s already “a good practice” to ask students if they want families to be involved – and guidelines should be issued for information sharing.
The Department of Education says all universities already have emergency communications will use it and “a few universities are trying an additional entry system”

Not exactly a new issue, but more than tape tape.


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