A moving BBC documentary about a University of Bristol student who took her own life is set to give fresh insight into her parents’ pursuit of answers to the questions surrounding her death.
Physics student Natasha Abrahart, who was 20 when she was found hanged on April 30, 2018, had told the university she was suffering panic attacks and had attempted to take her own life.
She was one of 11 Bristol University students to take their own lives in just 18 months. The university denies any wrongdoing and says it ‘worked very hard’ to help her, with student services even visiting her flat to take her to an emergency GP’s appointment.
The moving documentary follows Natasha’s heartbroken parents as they campaign throughout the inquest process and set out their demands for the university to take responsibility for their daughter’s death.
Cameras trail Bob and Maggie Abrahart as they struggle to raise £75,000 for legal fees to pay for lawyers at Natasha’s inquest, all while battling to come to terms with the loss of Natasha.
However, despite bringing 2,000 pages of evidence to the inquest the pair are unsuccessful and as the coroner finds the university was not at fault following six days of proceedings at Avon Coroner’s Court.
The documentary’s opening moments show Natasha’s parents standing in Natasha’s bedroom, which is presented exactly as she left it before her death.
(Image: BBC (family photo))
Amongst the disarray of the bedroom, Maggie says: “I find it really hard to think that she’s gone.”
Bob continues: “It’s sort of unreal, unnecessary.”
“A waste,” Maggie says.
Alongside obvious devastation, the documentary is also permeated with a sense of anger as Bob and Maggie draw attention to the way in which they claim to have been neglected by the university.
In once scene Bob, who is visibly shaking with anger, holding up a certificate sent by the university for Natasha’s completion of the first year of her degree. Holding the piece of paper, Bob shakes his head and says ‘words fail me’.
“And why they insulted us with the offer of a plaque in the walled garden,” he says. “I mean, have they got a plaque for every dead student? They’d need a big wall.
“The people who were meant to look after her, whatever they did, tended to make matters worse not better.
“You can accept what you are told by the university or the mental health trust as being the full truth.”
The one-off documentary ‘Dying for a Degree’, which airs this Thursday on BBC One, contains chilling accounts from Natasha’s friends.
Luke Unger, who was with Natasha just three days before her death, said: “I still get nightmares. I don’t really sleep. I think about her every day.
“You sort of had this constant paranoia of who’s next just because there were so many suicides, 11 in total, it was in the back of my mind all the time.”
Speaking through tears, another friend and fellow student, Hope White, told the BBC: “It’s been almost a year since Natasha died. I think it will be a year at the end of April but it doesn’t get any easier.”
Hope described Natasha as ‘shy’ and ‘generous’.
Natasha’s parents have recently decided to sue the university over their daughter’s death, in the hope that by linking a lack of care to the university – which they described as ‘in denial’ – they can prevent further suicides.
The documentary raises questions over the university’s student care, with Hope explaining that she approached a wellbeing officer for support after Natasha’s death.
“I was obviously in quite a dark place after Natasha,” she said. “Because it was quite near to the end of the year they told me to turn to my friends and family and if I still felt bad come back at the start of the year because everyone was leaving now.
“I didn’t feel too supported by university.”
In the BBC documentary they both recall the moment they heard the news.
Hope said: “I just remember being in a state of shock and not really believing it. Part of me wanting to cry, part of me wanting to just throw up.”
Luke added: “I was devastated. I just felt hollow. I just remember walking by the river and I stopped underneath Clifton Suspension Bridge and I just stayed there all night.”
The closing minutes of the documentary show Bob and Maggie back in Natasha’s bedroom, which has been tidied and cleared out following the inquest.
Standing in his daughter’s room, Bob says: “I sometimes stop and think, ‘what would it have been like to have a grown up daughter?’
“It’s something that’s never going to happen.
“We’ve had Natasha the young child, we’ve had Natasha the schoolgirl, Natasha the university student.”
Maggie continues: “I think if I was to give some advice to parents now – check up the processes of how people access help before you go to university, before you need them.
“You really don’t know whether your child is going to be the one that falls through the net. Natasha is not somebody who I ever thought would struggle with anything at university and perhaps that’s part of the problem.
“I knew how well she was at coping with situations, and maybe I didn’t question her enough because I had such confidence in her.”
Professor Sarah Purdy, Pro Vice-Chancellor Student Experience, said her officers met with Natasha on “many occasions”, which eventually led them to put her under the care of mental health professionals.
“The university is most definitely not in denial in relation to Natasha’s tragic death or in relation to mental health challenges more broadly,” she said.
“Everyone at the university is deeply affected by a student death and committed to doing all that we can to keep our students safe.
“We continue to challenge ourselves to improve our academic processes and student support on an ongoing basis, and we played a full and open role in the inquest process providing 11 statements and three witnesses in addition to substantial written evidence.
“After considering all of the oral and documentary evidence the coroner found no fault on the part of the university. We are pleased that this recognises the efforts of our committed staff to support Natasha, but we are by no means complacent about the scale of the challenge in relation to student mental health.
“It is one of the biggest public health issues affecting young people globally – not just those studying at university.”
Dying for a Degree airs on BBC One at 11.35pm tonight (Thursday, May 30) and will be available on iPlayer afterwards.
Most people who are thinking of taking their own life have shown warning signs beforehand. These can include becoming depressed, showing sudden changes in behaviour, talking about wanting to die and feelings of hopelessness.
These feelings do improve and can be treated. If you are concerned about someone, or need help yourself, please contact the Samaritans on 116 123.