An investigation has been launched into the suicides of as many as five students at York University in one year.
The cluster is thought to be the highest number recorded in a single year at a British university.
City of York council said: “We are working collaboratively with partners across the city including the university, the NHS and Public Health England to investigate these suicides.”
News of the inquiry came as York was this weekend ranked as the worst university for mental health care by the student news site The Tab.
The mother of one of the students said her daughter had not been given enough support. The father of another said he did not blame the university, which is expanding its counselling service.
Saher Ahmad, 20, Daniel Pinfold, 23, Christopher Walsh, 21, and Azusa Nose, 23, all took their own lives last year while students at York.
Ahmad, a third-year archaeology student from London, died from asphyxiation in her room in February. Pinfold, who was in the final year of an MA in contemporary history and international politics, died from self-asphyxiation in September.
In November, the body of Nose, a master’s student in citizenship and global education from Japan, was found in woodland near the city. A week later, Walsh, a second-year social and political sciences student from Harrogate, North Yorkshire, hanged himself. An inquest is pending into a suspected fifth suicide.
Ahmad had been having therapy for several years for depression and had been hospitalised after taking an overdose a month before her death. Friends described her as a sociable, kind young woman with a bright future.
Her mother, Dr Fauzia Zaheer, said the family had not been informed of the overdose and her daughter had had only one counselling session after it.
She said two policemen came to her house to tell her of her daughter’s death. “It was just unbearable. I could not believe it. For the next three hours I thought they had got the wrong person.”
Zaheer said she felt her daughter had been let down. “I feel she was not given enough support after the first attempt. When someone tries a suicide it is a cry for help.”
Daniel Pinfold had been nearing the end of his master’s degree at York and was worried about his future, according to his father, John. He said his son’s suicide had come “completely out of the blue” but that he did not blame the university. “I do not want to apportion any blame,” he said.
The Tab’s league table, which ranked Kent University first for mental health care, followed by Oxford, Reading, Cambridge and Sussex, was compiled from a survey of nearly 12,000 students at 30 of Britain’s top universities and from data obtained using the Freedom of Information Act.
Melissa Galvin-Cundill, 22, a York student who took part in the survey, sought help from the university’s “Open Door” counselling team this year.
She claims that, although she raised her history of self-harm, including suicide attempts several years ago before she started her degree course at York, her counselling was effectively ended after three sessions.
She said: “I’m not really surprised York was rated worst. During the last session I was made to feel as if I was just wasting [the counsellor’s] time.”
Figures released by York this year revealed that 50% of all ambulance call-outs to the university were the result of incidents of self-harm or attempted suicide. The university announced last week that it was investing £500,000 in mental health care provision, including the expansion of its in-house counselling service, to “ensure that those who need urgent appointments can be seen quickly”.
Koen Lamberts, York’s vice-chancellor, said: “As the number of students considering higher education grows, we must work hard to encourage openness between staff and students to talk about these issues in a supportive environment.”
Newcastle was ranked second-worst for mental health services. Its counselling was described as “slow, stingy and half-hearted” by one student.
The university said its low ranking was “surprising” as it had invested “significant resources in support for the wellbeing of our students”. It added: “We are aware that increasing numbers of students are experiencing mental health issues, so we are currently taking steps to increase our capacity to provide the necessary support.”
At Glasgow, ranked third from bottom, students claimed to have waited more than 10 months to see a counsellor. One said she had been hospitalised after self-harming while waiting and had still not seen a university counsellor, despite a referral from her GP in 2014.
Glasgow said that student welfare was one of its “highest priorities” and that recent improvements to its services had resulted in a 21% increase in demand for mental health support over the past year.
Tom Jenkin, deputy editor of The Tab, said: “We set out to show in the most comprehensive way how universities handle students who are suffering.
“We found students being failed by their universities and, in some bizarre cases, being turned away when they needed help the most.”
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