Content warning: This article contains references to suicide and self-harm
Natasha Abrahart was a physics student at the University of Bristol. She suffered from severe social anxiety and dreaded the presentations she had to give as part of her undergraduate course.
The 20-year-old, during her second year of studying in 2017 and 2018, failed to attend several of her oral assessments and performed poorly in the ones that she did. In other aspects of her studies she was doing well.
In April 2018, the day before she was due to speak at a laboratory conference in a 329-seat lecture hall, Natasha took her own life. She was one of at least 12 students to kill themselves at Bristol within five years.
In 2019, an inquest into Natasha’s death ruled that neglect by Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust contributed to her suicide. Following the verdict, the spotlight turned to the university, with Natasha’s parents accusing it of attempting to “shut down” any meaningful examination of its actions.
Some four years after their daughter’s tragic death, Margaret and Robert Abrahart’s civil action against the university has reached court. It’s the first time parents have sued a university in such circumstances.
Natasha Abrahart with her parents, Margaret and Robert
The Abraharts claim the university owed Natasha a duty of care and that she was a victim of indirect discrimination as a disabled student with social anxiety disorder. They said the institution could have made “several reasonable adjustments” for her, including replacing oral assessments with written ones.
The landmark five-day case at Bristol County Court concluded on Tuesday evening, after the court heard evidence from university staff in its school of physics, Natasha’s friend, her mother and two clinical psychiatrists. Judgement will be delivered at a later date.
‘Why is no one helping me here?’
Jamie Burton QC, who opened the case last week, said Natasha was a “conscientious and bright” student but from a young age had suffered a “debilitating social anxiety”. He said she would often “shut down” when the centre of attention.
Burton, representing the family, said Natasha’s anxiety “spiked” and became “clinically significant” at university. He told how she struggled in particular with a module that required her to take part in oral assessments.
The court heard how Natasha was “reluctant” to seek help from the university’s support services due to her condition. Burton said that, despite this, more could have been done to assist her.
Rajan Palan, a friend of Natasha’s, said he accompanied her to several medical appointments and did his best to persuade her to access …….