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‘My brother took his own life after being in isolation at uni during lockdown’

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Harrison De George was a 23-year-old PGCE student with dreams of teaching maths in secondary schools when he took his own life in December 2020. A seemingly happy and bright individual, Harrison had returned to university to begin the course.

He had been struggling in between the lockdowns and at times, felt alone and isolated away from his family in London while studying up in Manchester. His family knew he had struggled with his mental health but believe he “didn’t want to worry anyone”, according to his older sister Izzy, 26.

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Harrison was studying a PGCE at Manchester Metropolitan University to become a maths teacher

Izzy, a nurse from Clapham, told MyLondon : “My brother didn’t want to worry anyone. He never made a scene out of things because he didn’t want to worry us, especially with us being so far away. I think it all just got too much for him.” She added: “My brother was a very happy, positive person. He did struggle with his mental health, but never to the extent that we realised.”

The month before his death, Harrison had to self-isolate and became extremely anxious that he had lost out on important hours for his placement. Then one day in December, Harrison’s family got a call – he had taken his own life. He hadn’t shown up to his teaching placement on Monday morning. His flatmate had found him unconscious.

Izzy says Harrison and her were very close as siblings

Izzy says she and Harrison were very close as siblings

The next day, Izzy and her mum notified Harrison’s university of his death but were shocked to learn that Manchester Metropolitan University “had absolutely no idea” he had failed to turn up to his placement the day before. Izzy said: “I was in the middle of grieving so I didn’t think anything of it until about a week later. I thought that was really weird, why didn’t the placement contact the uni to say Harrison’s not here?”

Izzy’s role as a nurse means communication is essential in her every day work to ensure both staff and patients are okay, but explained, “we didn’t really have much communication from them [Manchester Met], it wasn’t dealt with particularly well. I’m a nurse, that’s just not on.” Izzy says there was also a lack of support from the university after Harrison’s death, and it felt impersonal.

You don’t have to suffer in silence if you’re struggling with your mental health. Here are some groups you can contact when you need help.

Samaritans: Phone 116 123, 24 hours a day, or email [email protected], in confidence

Childline: Phone 0800 1111. Calls are free and won’t show up on your bill

PAPYRUS: A voluntary organisation supporting suicidal teens and young adults. Phone 0800 068 4141

Depression Alliance: A charity for people with depression. No helpline but offers useful resources and links to other information

Students Against Depression: A website for students who are depressed, have low mood, or are suicidal. Click here to visit

Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM): For young men who are feeling unhappy. Has a website and a helpline: 0800 58 58 58

For information on your local NHS urgent mental health helpline, visit here

After researching into the university’s suicide prevention policy for placement students, Izzy discovered there was no policy in place on what to do if a student was absent. Her research, which looked into other universities across the UK, found that some academics and lecturers had no prior training in mental health, meaning they were less likely to be able to spot the signs if someone was struggling and needed help.

“Placement students are just expected to get on with it,” Izzy said. So in February 2021, two months after Harrison’s death, Izzy launched Positive Changes in Placement, a campaign in memory of Harrison that works with universities nationwide to strengthen their suicide prevention policy for students on placement.

Harrison's friends and family have had tattoos in memory of him

Harrison’s friends and family have had tattoos in memory of him

Izzy’s campaign has since been picked up by several mental health charities, while MPs such as Keir Starmer have also shown their support. Izzy and her mum have made a new support network of friends who have also lost a loved one at uni, but says life is different now there’s just the two of them. “We’re still very close but it’s just weird, it feels like there’s a part of us missing,” Izzy said.

She added: “We liked the same things, we had a similar sense of humour, we were quite competitive just because we were brother and sister. I miss just being able to call [Harrison] up and tell him about something that happened in the day and tell him something funny – I miss having him at family events.”

Izzy believes Harrison's uni did not deal with his mental health and the aftermath of his death 'particularly well'

Izzy believes Harrison’s uni did not deal with his mental health and the aftermath of his death ‘particularly well’

In memory of Harrison, Izzy, her mum and several of his friends have had tattoos to remind them of him. “He did have such an impact on so many people. We didn’t realise how many people’s lives he touched,” Izzy said.

To help with her campaigning while she works as a full-time nurse, Izzy has launched a GoFundMe, which will allow her to continue running her campaign and pay for things she cannot cover, including website costs, travelling to conferences and universities across the country, as well as for general materials.

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A spokesperson for Manchester Metropolitan University told The Mirror last year: “Our thoughts remain with Harrison’s family and friends. Student welfare is always our top priority and we are keen to explore any steps we can take to enhance the support we offer. We provide a range of measures to support the mental health and wellbeing of our students and staff and continue to review and add to these where necessary.

“Following Harrison’s death and subsequent discussions with his family, we reviewed our processes with placement providers and have re-emphasised the importance of them informing us at the earliest opportunity if one of our students has not attended their workplace or there are wellbeing concerns.

“While we know these measures would not have made a difference unfortunately in Harrison’s case, we were happy to provide this additional reassurance to his family and are supportive of them in raising awareness of the measures we have in place.”

If you are struggling with your mental health and need help, contact Samaritans on 116 123 or email [email protected]

If you have a story MyLondon should be covering, email [email protected]

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https://www.mylondon.news/news/uk-world-news/my-brother-took-life-after-23128672