This is a guest piece from Isabella, who talks about the loss of her brother Harrison, gaps in the system and her campaigning to universities and government.
My brother died by suicide on 7 December 2020. This was the day a giant Harrison-shaped hole was left in my life; my family’s lives and the lives of so many around us. I am now fighting to support university students’ well-being through two campaigns.
Harrison was a 23 year old maths PGCE student living in Manchester and was on placement at the time. He had already completed a Master’s in Aerospace Engineering. He was one of the kindest, most passionate and charismatic men you could meet. Not only was he a maths genius but he was also ridiculously talented at art, poetry and playing the ukulele. It may sound cliché, but he really did light up the lives of those who he met whenever he was around.
Gaps in the system
The day after my brother passed away, we called his university to let them know. They were completely unaware of this because the school hadn’t contacted the university to inform them that he hadn’t showed up for placement. We looked into the university’s placement handbook and realised that placements weren’t required to notify universities until two consecutive days of unnotified absence had passed. There was also a lack of signposting to internal and external wellbeing support, and no wellbeing forum for PGCE students.
Harrison’s university listened to our concerns and were extremely receptive. They went above and beyond in strengthening their policies and wellbeing support for placement students. Now if a student has an unnotified absence, the placement is required to notify the university as soon as possible. The university must also take steps to ensure that the student’s welfare isn’t compromised, including contacting the police if necessary. They have also made further adaptions to their policies and well-being support.
1. I am now campaigning for all universities to review their policies and wellbeing support for placement students. I don’t believe that universities are doing enough to support their large numbers of placement students – many have inadequate wellbeing support and outdated placement policies. I am contacting every university in the UK to find out what support they are offering and to encourage them to review and strengthen this.
2. I am also calling for the government to create legislation to mandate universities to adhere to mental health and suicide-safer frameworks and strategies. Currently there is nothing to make universities accountable for the wellbeing support they provide, and it’s clear that not enough is being done with rising numbers of suicides every year.
I wish that I didn’t have to do this; all I want is for my brother to be back. But this is something that has to be improved and it is what my brother would have wanted. My only goal is to stop one more suicide and to prevent one more family, friendship group and community from going through what we have all gone through.
If you’re aged 35 or under, and experiencing thoughts of suicide, call HOPELINE247 on 0800 068 4141, text 07860 039967 or email firstname.lastname@example.org – Our suicide prevention advisers are available from 9AM to midnight, every day of the year. We are also here for anybody concerned for a young person who might be experiencing thoughts of suicide.