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Lancaster University student, 19, killed herself following the death of her father

A university student took her own life while grieving over the death of her father who was struck down with terminal cancer just two weeks into her first year at college.

Jenny Harrison, 19, who was studying Geography at Lancaster University, had been extremely close to her father, Mark, and struggled to deal with his worsening condition as he fought the illness for 20 months. 

On one occasion she made a heartbreaking phone call to her family in which she pleaded with him not to die.

Jenny Harrison, 19, who was studying Geography at Lancaster University, had been extremely close to her father, Mark, and struggled to deal with his worsening condition

On June 29 this year, two months after Mr Harrison passed away, Jenny was found hanged on the 560 acre campus by two other students walking back to their halls of residence.

She was taken to hospital but died later that day. Inquiries later revealed she had previously tried to take her own life and had been admitted to A&E but had told doctors she was ‘happy to be alive’ and dismissed her thoughts as ‘irrational.’

An inquest heard in the months before Jenny died she had approached a porter at the university and told she was having a suicidal thoughts but was ‘calmed down’ and offered counselling. 

Staff were unaware of her previous hospital admissions and at the time of her death Jenny was due to embark on a student work experience scheme in Amsterdam under the university Erasmus Programme.

On June 29 this year, two months after Mr Harrison passed away, Jenny was found hanged on the 560 acre campus by two other students walking back to their halls of residence

Jenny Harrison

On June 29 this year, two months after Mr Harrison passed away, Jenny was found hanged on the 560 acre campus by two other students walking back to their halls of residence

The Lancaster hearing was told how Jenny was described by her family an ‘intelligent and very compassionate young woman’ who had helped her high school in Derby raise money and renovate a school and orphanage in Uganda when she was just 16 – even attending an after school club and learn about bricklaying.

She was also a keen ballerina and had a Saturday job as hotel waitress whilst studying her A Levels before she enrolled at the university’s Environment centre in September 2016.

Her mother Alison Harrison said: ‘She was positive about going to uni but Mark’s illness was confirmed after she started her first year.

‘He was diagnosed when she had been there for two weeks. I think it was a combination of the diagnosis of Mark’s illness and being at uni for a couple of weeks which added to her depressive illness.

Jenny was a keen ballerina and had a Saturday job as hotel waitress whilst studying her A Levels before she enrolled at the university's Environment centre in September 2016

Jenny was a keen ballerina and had a Saturday job as hotel waitress whilst studying her A Levels before she enrolled at the university’s Environment centre in September 2016

‘Mark’s diagnosis was painful for her and we had a distressing call from her saying she cut her wrists and she was talking about her feelings. 

‘She didn’t have her friends from home around and the others didn’t empathise with her. She tried to take her own life and was in hospital for five days.

‘Her friend picked her up from the hospital and brought her back home, but it wasn’t long before she wanted to go back to uni.

‘She was offered group counselling, and she saw a doctor who diagnosed her with depression and after six weeks she started antidepressants. 

‘She visited regularly to spend time with Mark, he became worse over Christmas.

‘She called Mark and pleaded with him not to die. In February Mark’s prognosis was really bad and he was admitted to hospital. She had a few weeks away from uni to spend time with Mark but he sadly passed away.

Her mother Alison Harrison told the inquest: 'She was positive about going to uni but Mark's illness was confirmed after she started her first year'

Jenny Harrison

Her mother Alison Harrison told the inquest: ‘She was positive about going to uni but Mark’s illness was confirmed after she started her first year’

‘Jenny was involved with the funeral for Mark and for some friends and family, it was the last time they saw Jenny before she returned to uni. Jenny said she was doing well and that she was dealing with what was going on. I’m aware she was getting ready to go to Amsterdam and she had to take some exams for this and I think she was a bit concerned.

‘I know she liked to go out with her friends at uni, I’m aware they were celebrating that night. The next thing I remember was receiving a difficult phone call on 29 June and being told she had been taken into intensive care.

‘But sadly the damage had been done and she passed away. She had a special way with words, she was unique. It just a shame. I feel she felt she was treading water.’

The Lancaster hearing was told how Jenny was described by her family an 'intelligent and very compassionate young woman'

The Lancaster hearing was told how Jenny was described by her family an ‘intelligent and very compassionate young woman’

Mrs Harrison added: ‘I was worried about Jenny after her dad died. They had such a close relationship and she was so close to him – she couldn’t admit she needed the help.’

Mental Health practitioner Susanne Gilford who treated Jenny for an an overdose in October 2017 said: ‘She described feeling overwhelmed and anxious and had a tendency to overthink things but she expressed she was happy to be alive. 

‘She said she was using YouTube videos as a distraction and she accepted her thoughts could be irrational.’

Jenny’s GP Dr Kirsten Wong added: ‘She was a young, intelligent woman who was sensitive to others and other people’s perception of her. She did tell me about her dad and about his diagnosis and I think it did have an effect on her. I was aware her dad died at Easter this year but she seemed to be OK and she said the medication started to work and she was still going out with friends and enjoying time at uni. I believe the self harm attempts were impulsive.’

Kelly Robinson, head of counselling at Lancaster University said: ‘We were unaware of the previous attempts to take her own life. If there was immediate risk to her safety, we would have phoned her parents. On January 29 she came to a porter in the student accommodation at university and spoke to them and said she was feeling distressed and had suicidal thoughts.

‘They spoke to her and calmed her down. Based on the assessment she did not show intent at the time, she denied any kind of intent. She said she could keep herself safe. At that time she wasn’t a risk to herself or others. We referred her to a questionnaire to help her understand what help she needed whether it was counselling or group counselling.

‘We were aware of her being referred to hospital in November. I think everyone in this wishes they had done something differently. She seemed to be doing well and loved it at uni. At that time, looking at the assessment, she was not an immediate concern as she was not showing a high of risk of danger to herself.’

Recording a conclusion of suicide, Coroner James Newman said: ‘Jenny was a person who was there for others but sadly she was unable to help herself, and that is not a criticism of her. 

‘Her character was being there for others.. She was a young lady who was incredibly intelligent but mental illness is one of the greatest demons of our time.

‘I believe she acted on impulse. When she wanted to do something, she did it in a spur of the moment. 

‘I believe she did it spontaneously but she did intend to take her own life. 

‘I wish what I could say would wave a magic wand and make it better, but it doesn’t, I can only imagine how difficult today has been.’

  • For confidential support call the Samaritans on 116123 or visit a local Samaritans branch, see Samaritans.org for details

 

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