Father of suicide student says 'look out for your mates'

Branwen Jeffreys
Education Editor
@branwenjeffreyson Twitter


Students starting university next week should help look out for each other, says James Murray, whose son Ben took his own life earlier this year.

They should watch out for changes in appearance or behaviour, or not joining in, which can all be signs of mental distress.

Mr Murray is also calling for universities to improve how they pick up on behaviours that should trigger more support.

A guide for universities to help suicide prevention has just been published by Universities UK.

Ben Murray was a 19-year-old first year student at Bristol University.

His father told university vice-chancellors at their meeting this week there had been a number of indications that his son was struggling.

Ben had registered late and failed to attend.

He was struggling with anxiety, despite getting high A-level grades, because he'd missed out on his first choice of university and gained a place at Bristol through Clearing.

Image source, Family photograph
Image caption,
Ben Murray, a 19-year-old English student at the University of Bristol, died in May

Ben had also lost two of his grandparents in his last year at sixth form.

When he died, he had already been dismissed by the university, and was just days away from having to move out of accommodation.

Ben was among at least 95 students in the UK who took their own lives last year.

Mr Murray said he would like to see better checks on vulnerable students, which might include some of those getting places through Clearing.

"We need universities to be compassionate communities, that communicate with empathy and treat everyone as special."

He encouraged new students to attend well-being sessions because it may enable them to help friends as well as themselves.

'Everyone's business'

Partly as a result of his campaigning on better data sharing, Bristol University is now encouraging students to provide designated contacts for family or guardians at registration.

The new suicide prevention advice published by Universities UK says talk of suicidal thoughts should never be treated as attention-seeking by students.

Male students are at higher risk of suicide, even though the rate overall is lower than in the non-student population.

Encouraging students to share difficulties early with families and friends can help reduce risk.

Universities are being encouraged to "make it everyone's business" so that academic staff and students, as well as welfare teams are aware of how to get help.

Mr Murray says intervention in cases like that of Ben is needed earlier.

He said: "The shock and horror of losing Ben has been devastating for our family.

"Piecing together the events has been very difficult."