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Too many empty Seats by Lee Fryatt

When my son Daniel started his journey into Higher Education, I never imagined he would not come back. I never knew it would be the last time I would ever see him alive. I never realised so many seats are left empty by student suicide.

In 2018 my son died by suicide whilst studying at university. In the immediate aftermath my family was left to try and pick through the devastation of our loss in search of answers to the eternal questions of why? How was this possible in an educational setting where staff are ever present?

As I reflect on the 5 years since Daniel’s passing, I have learnt a lot. I’ve learnt that sadly we lose around 100 students to suicide each year, and whilst there are lots of statistics to say students are no higher risk than other young adults, that rather misses the point.

I learnt that far too many families share the same sense of loss and frustration that nothing was being learned from our childrens’ deaths. That the Higher Education sector seemed unable, unwilling or too scared to have conversations with parents, families or loved ones if concerns were being identified about students.

Like many who are bereaved by suicide, I felt compelled to do whatever I could to prevent future tragedies. I wanted the sector to learn from Daniel’s death and so I discovered families who also had ‘a journey of loss to share’. We formed The LEARN Network.


So, what have we achieved?


I am immensely proud of our achievements, especially when you consider that every member of The LEARN Network has a ‘story’ and has delivered so much whilst trying to reconcile their own personal loss.

In April 2023 we delivered a petition to Downing Street calling for a Statutory Duty of Care for all students in Higher Education. Over 128,000 people supported our campaign and calls to improve the level of support students should expect whilst in Higher Education.

We worked with the Information Commissioners Office to provide better guidelines and clarification so that universities know how and when they should notify parents or nominated contacts if there were concerns about a particular student.

I was also proud to represent The LEARN Network and every single person that supported our petition when we presented evidence to the petitions committee in May 2023.

Together we have achieved much, and with your help we are determined to do more.


So, what next?


The empty seats are a poignant reminder of those we lost. Help us ensure their voice is still heard and they are never forgotten. Never, never, never.


I am now one of the representatives on the  Higher Education Mental Health implementation task force.

The task force is one of the key drivers for change to improve the wellbeing and mental health of all HE students. My role is to ensure the shared lived experience of The LEARN Network is used to inform and improve practice, shape policy and ensure the task force delivers on its promises.

The task force recently published it’s first update and there are many people engaged in the process to deliver better outcomes for student support and work towards preventing future suicides.

A review of all student suicides has recently been commissioned and the National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Safety in Mental Health (NCISH). The review will focus on the academic year 2023/24 but the inquiry has also been asked to look at earlier student deaths to learn broader lessons.


What can you do?

Remembering the empty seats.

I find it hard to talk to people about getting involved and supporting The LEARN Network for the simple reason that often a new story of loss will emerge. Another connection made because someone has a ‘similar story to tell’ or ‘you need to hear this; this shouldn’t have happened to my child at university’. Often the connection is emotional first, practical steps come later.

If that is you, if my blog does resonate with you and you want to get involved or support our work please contact us at The LEARN Network. If you want to ensure your voice is heard in the national review, please email us your story and we can help ensure your loss is heard.

The empty seats serve as beacon for those who are gone but never forgotten. Help us ensure their voice is still heard.

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