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Universities’ strategy on suicide prevention could include parents

By Ella Devereux Nov 26, 2021
Person in denim jacket resting their hands on their kneesUniversities have been advised to consider policy on sharing concerns with family and friends of students. Photo: Priscilla du Preez on Unsplash

The Office for Students (OfS) is developing guidance to universities that includes them establishing a policy on how information should be shared with family and friends if they are concerned about students’ mental health.

In a new suicide prevention briefing released this month, the OfS has said that
universities should “involve all parts of the institution including students staff, welfare teams, academic departments and student services”, and make suicide prevention an institutional priority.
 
This is alongside guidance that institutions should “establish a policy on information sharing with family and friends and ensure that disclosure and consent are considered appropriately and sensitively”.

Amanda Björklund, a creative and cultural industries student, said: “With the mental health crisis at the moment, I think it’s great that they are trying to do something. But parents aren’t always the answer, because they don’t have a guidebook saying ‘this is how you help your kid when they’re feeling low’.”

The guidance is currently advisory and will be supported by official guidance on how information should be shared when students are at risk of self-harm or suicide by Universities UK (UUK).

However some KU students recognise the complexity of involving family and friends in the personal lives of students.

Ioanna Stergiaki, an art curation student, said that the success of universities
enforcing this guidance would depend on the relationship a student has with their parents.

“If you’ve got a great relationship with your parents, that’s like the support network you need. But if you don’t, that’s something you might not want them to know because it could affect you in a negative way,” she said.

“University staff should do whatever is necessary and proportionate to protect someone’s life”

Viv adams, Information commissioner’s office

Kingston University states in its 2021 safeguarding policy that it normally deals with students directly, without involving parents or third parties.

However Viv Adams, from the Information Commissioner’s Office said: “University staff should do whatever is necessary and proportionate to protect someone’s life.

“Data protection law allows organisations to share personal data in an urgent or emergency situation, including to help them prevent loss of life or serious physical, emotional or mental harm.”

It is widely recognised that students at university are a grey area, as they are
technically classed as adults yet the university still has a duty of care for its students.

Some students think these measures are only applicable to younger university
students.

Sani Muazu, a PhD renewable energy student, said: “As an adult you are
responsible for what happens to you so, to me, it does not matter. In my opinion, if something happens to an undergrad, then the parent should know.”

Bereaved parents, who have been fighting for years for better knowledge of high-risk students, welcome the changes.

James Murray, whose son died at Bristol University, has launched an online service, Kooth, which offers students access to qualified counsellors, funded by the NHS.

This service is available to KU students online, and you can sign up through your university GP postcode or your home postcode.

There were 174 student suicides in England and Wales in 2019, according to the Office for National Statistics, with over two-thirds of these students not known to campus support services.

At Kingston University, there are several services available for students who need mental health support.

Students can book a slot online and drop in every Tuesday and Thursday at Penrhyn Road Health Centre, to speak with a member of the Wellbeing Team.

There are also listening sessions, stress and time management sessions and
counselling services available for all students.

In an emergency, or if someone’s life is at risk, students should always call 999.

In non-emergencies, students can fill out a safeguarding concern reporting for,
on the MyKingston, website or call the Samaritans any time on
116 123.

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