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‘When you stop fighting, that’s when you start grieving’: the parents battling to prevent student suicide

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In the four years since their daughter killed herself at university, Robert and Margaret Abrahart have been trying to understand why she was left to cope with her problems alone – and to help other vulnerable young people

Days after their daughter died in April 2018, Robert and Margaret Abrahart turned detective. “It’s a survival mechanism – we will be matter of fact, we will organise,” says Robert. “It seems the only way to cope.” The day after they were told Natasha, a student at the University of Bristol, had killed herself, they went to identify her body, then clear out her flat. That was where they found an envelope Natasha had kept containing all her online passwords. Back at home in Nottingham, they logged on to her university email account and found their daughter had told at least one member of staff she had been feeling suicidal.

In the four years since, they have sought answers, culminating in a civil action against the University of Bristol, which was heard over several days last month. A judgment is still to come as to whether the university breached its legal duties to Natasha and, if so, whether this contributed to her death (requiring it to award compensation). It has been a long, expensive process – the couple crowdfunded and cashed in their pensions to pay for it – but even a successful outcome won’t feel like a victory, Margaret says, unless it starts a wider understanding of student suicide, and meaningful change across all universities. “We want universities to say, if this happened to Natasha, could it happen to anybody else? What do we need to stop it?”

In the UK, the youth suicide charity Papyrus can be contacted on 0800 068 4141 or by email at [email protected]. In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or by email at [email protected]. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org

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