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Universities to involve trusted contacts when there are serious concerns about a student’s safety or mental health

Young Adult walking through Library

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Universities UK (UUK), in partnership with PAPYRUS Prevention of Young Suicide, has published recommendations calling on universities to be more proactive in preventing student suicides. Suicides in student populations is relatively rare, as with any death by suicide it has a large impact. The new guidance sets out how and when universities should involve families, carers, and trusted others when there are serious concerns about the safety or mental health of a student.

The reccommendations include:

Making it mandatory for students to give a trusted contact at registration, whilst being clear that the contact does not have to be a parent, and starting a conversation about when and how these contacts might be involved ·

Having check-ins at the start of each academic year for students to update this information and making it easy to update the contact if circumstances change

Ensuring that universities review their suicide prevention plans and policies to keep students safe, including identifying students of concern, assessing risk, working in close partnership with NHS services and, where there are serious concerns, initiating conversations about involving trusted contacts

Making clear that, although it is always preferable to gain agreement from the student, universities can decide to involve trusted contacts without agreement where there are serious concerns about a student’s safety or mental health. Such decisions should always be made in the student’s interests, be taken by appropriately qualified staff, supported by senior leadership, be based on a risk assessment establishing the grounds for serious concern, and be properly governed and recorded.

The guidance is the first time a consistent practice has been proposed for the sector. It places the student at the centre of decisions about their safety and care. It also aims to give institutions the confidence to be proactive about involving trusted contacts, to set out properly governed processes to share information, and to give staff clarity about their roles and responsibilities.

Professor Steve West CBE, President of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor of UWE Bristol, said:

“There is nothing more devastating for a university community than a student death by suicide. As a sector, we need to do everything we can to reduce the risk of suicide and serious self-harm. Universities are committed to putting students who may be in difficulty at the centre of decisions about their care – including who they want involved. But this commitment must be balanced with a duty to protect a student when there are serious concerns about their safety and welfare. Universities can help save lives when they adopt a proactive response to suicide prevention, and an important part of that proactive response is making proportionate, risk-based decisions around involving trusted contacts.”

Professor Steve West CBE President of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor of UWE Bristol

    Ged Flynn, Chief Executive of PAPYRUS Prevention of Young Suicide added:

    “University life can be exciting, but also bewildering and frightening at times, especially when students are away from the familiar or the people and places which form part of their preferred or go-to support. Students have a right to think we always have their best interests at heart. This guidance aids the discernment of when to put those best interests at the forefront of decisions on sharing information when emotional crises may loom larger. Suicide in university populations is relatively rare but can devastate a community when it happens. Together, aided by this guidance, we can all play our part to ensuring it is rarer still.”

    Ged Flynn , Chief Executive of PAPYRUS Prevention of Young Suicide

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