Universities could be forced to contact parents of mentally ill

Universities could be legally forced to contact parents of students having a mental health crisis under new law after pressure from suicide victims’ families

  • The ‘Student Mental Health Bill’ has been introduced to the House of Lords
  • Conservative peer Lord Ralph Lucas wants universities to look after students 
  • It means parents could be called if their child suffers a mental health crisis  
  • Anyone seeking help can call Samaritans free on 116 123 or visit Samaritans.org 
  • Did your child suffer a mental health crisis while at university? Email [email protected] 

Universities could be legally forced to contact the parents of students if they show signs they are going through a mental health crisis, according to a bill that has been introduced to the House of Laws.

It comes after several parents whose children killed themselves while at university said they think the students would still be alive had staff contacted them.

The bill, introduced by Conservative peer Lord Ralph Lucas, would require universities to keep on record details of every student’s emergency contact. 

The ‘Student Mental Health Bill’ would also ‘set out a duty on such providers to support student mental health’.

The bill, introduced by Conservative peer Lord Ralph Lucas (pictured), would require universities to keep on record details of every student’s emergency contact

The University of Bristol introduced a similar opt-in scheme and 93 per cent of students gave details for somebody – not necessarily a parent – to be contacted in an emergency.

Lord Lucas told student news site The Tab there has been a ‘fundamental failing of care’ from universities towards their students.

He said: ‘These are young people in their care. They’re taking on a large debt, you owe them a comprehensive duty of care and interest, and you’re not setting yourselves up to fulfil that.’

He said legislation to force universities to look after their students does not yet exist, adding: ‘I think suicides are the nasty tip of a big iceberg.’

Universities argue that data protection – and students’ rights as adults – mean they cannot contact parents or share information without their consent.

Ben Brown (pictured), 22, from Gloucester, killed himself after writing his mother Helen Hartery-Brown a letter about his mental health

Lucas has put the bill forward as a private member’s bill, which are prioritised by a ballot of the members of the House of Lords.

Bills which come high enough in the ballot go through several stages in the Lords, before being picked up by an MP and taken to the Commons.

However, Lord Lucas says the measures have a slim chance of making it into law in this form.

He said: ‘It has a five per cent chance of being close enough to the top of the list to be on early enough to make it through the Commons’.

From 2017 to 2019, just one of 75 bills introduced in the Lords as private members’ bills became law. 

Romily Ulvestad, 21, was struggling at university and took her own life last year in London

Student suicides are not an irregular occurrence, especially as young people battled the isolation of coronavirus lockdown last year. 

In May last year Helen Hartery-Brown told how her 22-year-old Loughborough University student son Ben Brown, from Gloucester, killed himself because he was ‘overwhelmed’ by lockdown. 

The night before his death, Ms Hartery-Brown, 54, said engineering student Ben – who was living with friends in Leicestershire – had concealed his anguish.

University of Edinburgh student Romily Ulvestad, 21, killed herself in March this year after staff who knew of her mental health battle did not tell her parents.  

Sports fanatic Haseen Hashim, 20, tragically killed himself after returning home during lockdown from his university freshers year

She was found dead at her mother and father’s London home four days after her birthday in April last year. 

Her inquest was told a number of university departments had known she was struggling with mental health issues and her work but had not warned her family.

Sports fanatic Haseen Hashim, 20, killed himself after coming home from his first year of university at Cardiff Metropolitan University last year.

And father-of-one Phil Taylor, 32, a student at Hull University, was found hanged in his home in west Hull on April 17, 2019, just six weeks before he was due to complete his law degree. 

In February, the mother of a student with a ‘gift for picking others up when they felt down’ talked of her grief and fears that lockdown pushed her son to take his own life. 

Robbie Curtis, 22, (pictured left) was found dead in August. The University of Nottingham graduate (pictured right) suffered from depression and took his own life during lockdown

Lesley Curtis warned that if it can happen to her son Robbie, 22, ‘it can happen to anyone’ calling her loss every ‘parent’s nightmare’. 

She called for more mental health support for university students and launched a charity, R World, to help people recognise the signs of mental illness.

Lesley said: ‘I think lockdown played some part in it… having the same routine every day and not knowing what was going to happen.’

‘There are a lot of students not coping with lockdown, I’m sure,’ she added.  

NHS volunteer Robbie Curtis, who had been working at a Covid testing site before his death, suffered spells of low mood and suicidal thoughts during the first lockdown.

Anyone seeking help can call Samaritans free on 116 123 or visit Samaritans.org. 

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