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Student's suicide leads to review of Falmouth University's support services

By WBCraig  |  Posted: February 19, 2014

Joseph Evans took his own life

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THE suicide of a “kind and intelligent” student has triggered a review of support services at Cornwall’s university and led to improvements at a doctor’s surgery.

Joseph Evans hanged himself at his flat on Church Street in Falmouth on June 22 last year after suffering from depression, an inquest heard.

It followed a suicide attempt by the photography student, who then received support from mental health professionals and a GP.

At the inquest on Thursday, assistant coroner for Cornwall Andrew Cox said he would write to Falmouth University and The Penryn Surgery to ensure improvements made in the wake of Mr Evans’ death would “take root and grow”.

He said the extra information would go into a report which could help to prevent further deaths in similar circumstances.

Mr Evans, 21, tried to take his own life on November 23, 2011, while in shared accommodation in Falmouth.

Over the next 18 months he had a home visit by a university support team and a clinical psychiatric nurse, three appointments with a GP, a session with a university counsellor and an appointment with a wellbeing case worker. He was also prescribed a months’ worth of antidepressants.

The inquest heard he was repeatedly not “chased up” when he failed to attend follow-up appointments, but had created a “smokescreen” to hide his condition from his parents, friends and health professionals.

GP Christine Dunne saw Mr Evans at Penryn Surgery on November 24, 2011. She told the inquest it was “not necessary to chase him up” when he failed to attend an appointment the next day. “He was not actively suicidal; he was able to make his own decisions,” she said.

The third-year press and editorial student from Stoke Newington missed his second session with university counsellor Sofia Chanda-Gool in January 2013. She told the inquest it was “counter-productive” to pursue patients, adding: “We are not encouraged to do that.”

Wellbeing case worker Julie Rae, who saw Mr Evans in April 2013, said: “Joe went to great lengths to hide his condition and the extent of it. There was certainly no indication when I met him that he was likely to harm himself.”

After his death, a review was carried out into the university’s student support services.

Dr Chanda-Gool said: “It caused a great deal of alarm. There were several meetings.”

Ms Rae said there was a “systems overview” and a weekly risk assessment practitioner’s meeting had been introduced to discuss individual cases. Internal processes were more “robust”.

She said the university was applying for funding to employ an extra full or part-time assistant for her, as the only case worker for 6,000 students at the Penryn and Falmouth campuses. The university also now has fortnightly meetings with Penryn surgery.

Dr Dunne said the surgery had reviewed how it followed up patients who miss appointments and improved communication with the university.

Parents David and Paddy Evans said after the hearing: “We can’t bring Joe back, but if something positive has come out of Joe’s death it would be that we can help to protect other vulnerable young people.”

Mr and Mrs Evans added: "Our family is supporting the national charity Papyrus - Prevention of Young Suicide - to help save future young lives and prevent other families enduring similar devastation. We know that reading about suicide can upset vulnerable young people."

The family wished to add the contact details for the charity.

The HopelineUK telephone number is: 0800 068 41 41 SMS 07786 209 697 or email pat@papyrus-uk.org for confidential help and support for young people feeling suicidal and anyone worried about a young person they know.

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