Parents of Bristol student, 20, who killed herself say university staff ‘made things worse not better‘ as they speak out in moving new documentary
Natasha Abrahart, a student at the University of Bristol, was found hanged in her flat
The parents of a promising Bristol student who took her own life have said the people who were meant to help her ‘made things worse not better‘.
Natasha Abrahart, 20, from Nottingham, was found hanged in her flat on April 30, 2018, the tenth of 12 student suicides at the University of Bristol in just 18 months.
Now her parents have given a documentary a glimpse into their legal fight to hold the university responsible for the failings behind Natasha‘s death.
Dying for a Degree tells the story of Natasha‘s tragic suicide as it follows her parents Robert and Margaret Abrahart in their fight to get answers.
Bristol University denies any wrongdoing in the run up to her death, saying it ‘worked very hard‘ to offer the student help and that student services even took her to an emergency GP appointment.
The university said Natasha ‘continued to receive support and advice from staff in the School of Physics‘ even when she was referred to mental health specialists.
But Natasha‘s father said: ‘The people who were meant after her, whatever they did, made things worse not better.‘
‘You can‘t accept what you are told by the university or the mental health trust as being the full truth.‘
Despite their pain, Natasha‘s parents are not just fighting for answers but also to see changes that might save other young lives.
The documentary follows Natasha‘s heartbroken parents as they raised more than £75,000 online to fund lawyers to represent them at the inquest into her death.
Her parents collected more than 2,000 pages of evidence on the conduct of the university, Natasha‘s GP and mental health services.
But the six day inquest limited its detailed investigation to just the month of Natasha‘s death, despite signs of her deteriorating mental health appearing long before.
The coroner cleared the university of blame and ruled Natasha‘s death was suicide contributed to by neglect from Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership.
A chilling email Natasha sent ten weeks before her death to a staff member at the University of Bristol‘s physics department read: ‘I want to tell you that the last few days have been really hard, I have been having suicidal thoughts and to a certain degree have attempted it.‘
After the inquest Mr Abrahart expressed his frustration, he said: ‘I am angry because we were prevented from getting to the truth‘.
Moving accounts from Natasha‘s friends show how her death had an impact across the student community.
Luke Unger recalled when he heard the news: ‘I was devastated. I just felt hollow. I just remember walking by the river and I stopped underneath Clifton Suspension bridge and I just stayed there all night.‘
He had dinner with Natasha just three days before she died, he said: ‘I still get nightmares. I don‘t really sleep. I think about her every day.‘
‘You sort of had this constant paranoia of who‘s next just because there were so many suicides, 11 in total, it was in the back of my mind all the time.‘
Hope White, who used to go on runs with Natasha, said when she found out her friend was dead: ‘I just remember being in a state of shock and not really believing it. Part of me wanting to cry, part of me wanting to just throw up.‘
Describing her friend as ‘shy‘ and ‘generous‘ she added through tears: ‘It‘s been almost a year since Natasha died. I think it will be a year at the end of April but it doesn‘t get any easier.‘
Even after the tragedy the university failed to offer support, said Hope: ‘I was obviously in quite a dark place after Natasha,
‘It was quite near to the end of the year they told me to turn to my friends and family and if I still felt bad come back at the start of the year because everyone was leaving now. I didn‘t feel too supported by university.‘
Professor Sarah Purdy, Pro Vice-Chancellor Student Experience, said university staff met with Natasha on ‘many occasions‘ and referred her to mental health services.
She said: ‘The University is most definitely not in denial in relation to Natasha‘s tragic death or in relation to mental health challenges more broadly.
‘Everyone at the University is deeply affected by a student death and committed to doing all that we can to keep our students safe.
‘We we played a full and open role in the inquest process providing 11 statements and three witnesses in addition to substantial written evidence.
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‘The Coroner found no fault on the part of the University. We are pleased that this recognises the efforts of our committed staff to support Natasha, but we are by no means complacent about the scale of the challenge in relation to student mental health.‘
Dying for a Degree airs on One at 11.35pm tonight (Thursday, May 30) and will be available on iPlayer afterwards
For confidential support in the UK call the Samaritans on 116123, visit a local Samaritans branch or click for details
How 12 Bristol students took their own lives in just 18 months
MIRANDA WILLIAMS (University of Bristol) – October 13, 2016
The 19-year-old philosophy student from Chichester had struggled with anxiety and depression, and took her own life with a drug overdose. She was only in her first term at the university, and was praised by her mother as ‘an amazing young woman‘ with a ‘wonderful circle of friends‘. A coroner concluded her death was suicide.
DANIEL GREEN (University of Bristol) – October 21, 2016
The 18-year-old history fresher, who lost his mother aged two to cancer, was found hanging in his room at university. An inquest was told he had started talking about starting counselling services, but had been in ‘good spirits‘ just two days before his death. In a narrative verdict the coroner concluded he had taken his own life.
KIM LONG (University of Bristol) – November 10, 2016
The 18-year-old law student was just starting his first term at the university but was found dead in his halls of residence after leaving a note for his parents. Mr Long was described as a ‘highly intelligent‘ young man with ‘a sense of humour‘ by his parents, and had not shown signs of depression. The coroner concluded suicide.
LARA NOSIRU (University of Bristol) – January 30, 2017
The 23-year-old student from Essex took a large number of sleeping tablets and some LSD before jumping off Clifton Suspension Bridge in the city. She had suffered from depression for several years and tried to kill herself on several previous occasions. The coroner said she took her own life.
ELSA SCABURRI (University of Bristol) – March 20, 2017
The 21-year-old student had been suffering with depression when she was found hanged after leaving a note on her bed. The modern languages student was said to have gone ‘downhill‘ quickly during a year abroad in Italy and came back to Britain to be with her mother. The coroner concluded her death was suicide.
RAVEN HUNT (University of West England) – April 13, 2017
The 21-year-old sociology student, who had a history of anxiety, hanged herself in woods near the city. Her family later spoke of their devastation. Her mother Emmy Hunt, who has three other children, said she is now on anti-depressants and gets panic attacks following the death.
SAM SYMONDS (University of West England) – May 1, 2017
The 19-year-old student, who was described as ‘so lovely‘, was found dead after his friends raised the alarm when he had not been seen. His girlfriend and flatmate came home from work to find police at the flat, who said he had killed himself. A post mortem found he died from hanging. In a narrative verdict the coroner concluded he took his own life.
JAMES THOMSON (University of Bristol) – October 25, 2017
The 20-year-old maths student had been battling depression for about 18 months before his body was found by a friend. During an inquest, his parents questioned why the university did not do more to get in touch with them when they found he was suffering from depression. The coroner concluded his death was suicide.
JUSTIN CHENG (University of Bristol) – January 12, 2018
The law student from Canada, is in the third year of his degree, is believed by police to have taken his own life. The coroner concluded his death was suicide.
ALEX ELSMORE (University of Bristol) – April 21, 2018
The 23-year-old electrical and engineering student took his own life. The undergraduate, whose father is Guy, 52, the Archdeacon of Buckingham in the Diocese of Oxford, was originally from Liverpool and had four siblings. The coroner concluded his death was suicide.
NATASHA ABRAHART (University of Bristol) – April 30, 2018
Second-year physics student Natasha Abrahart was only 20 when she was found dead in her flat having taken her own life. In February last year she wrote to tutors to tell them she had had suicidal thoughts, and later that month tried to kill herself.
BEN MURRAY (University of Bristol) – May 5, 2018
First-year student Ben Murray took his own life last May. His father has since appealed for universities to do more to share details about at-risk students.