The world is a better place with you in it
This blog was written by registered nurse and founder of the Positive Changes in Placement campaign, Isabella De George.
My brother died of suicide on 7th December 2020. This was the day a giant, Harrison-shaped hole was left in my life, my family’s life and so many of those around us. I am now fighting to support university students across the UK through the campaign ‘Positive Changes in Placement’.
Harrison was 23 years old, a maths PGCE student living in Manchester and was on placement at the time of his suicide. He had already completed a Master’s in aerospace engineering and was one of the kindest, most passionate, and charismatic men you could meet. Not only was he a maths genius but he was also ridiculously talented at art, poetry and playing the ukulele. He genuinely lit up the lives of those who he met.
The day my brother passed away he didn’t turn up to placement. We called his university the following day to tell them that Harrison had passed away. They weren’t aware of this as the mentor at his placement hadn’t contacted the university to inform them that he never turned up. We checked the university’s placement handbook and were shocked to read that placement supervisors weren’t required to notify universities until two consecutive days of unnotified absence. There was also a lack of signposting to internal and external well-being support, and they didn’t have a well-being forum for PGCE placement students. I’m a paediatric nurse working in London, and it is common practice to let universities know as soon as a student nurse doesn’t turn up for placement. More often than not, when someone doesn’t turn up, it’s because of an error relating to their shifts or something innocent, but there is always the possibility that it’s something more serious.
Since Harrison’s death, I have created the campaign Positive Changes in Placement. I worked with his university to strengthen their policies and wellbeing support for placement students and today I am asking universities to assess the support they provide to their students while on placement in order to ensure that regular contact is made and that students are made to feel part of the university community. I’m also asking universities to review their unnotified absence policies. We should be treating university students in the same way that we treat employees so that when someone doesn’t show up to their placement without notification, this is immediately followed up.
I am working with the British government and calling for them to impose tighter restrictions on universities. At present universities aren’t held accountable for the lack of support they provide students. Mental health in the student population is worsening, and the number of suicides is rising. Students are in a vulnerable position and it is vital that some degree of safeguarding is provided.
As nurses and healthcare professionals we already feel stretched and burnt out, particularly as a result of the pandemic. However, we are often the only source of constant human interaction that our student nurses are receiving. We should be advocating for them and highlighting the wellbeing concerns that we have. I’m sure we all remember how challenging it is to be a student nurse with the pressure of university work, placement hours and trying to navigate through student life.
I never thought I would be in this awful boat, but by being here I have met some amazing, strong and inspirational individuals who have helped to get me through. I also feel so grateful that despite this tragic experience, we have managed to find some small glimmers of hope. I have gained so many new friends and brothers, heard all the cheeky stories of Harrison I never would’ve before, and have seen a community pull together. We have collectively opened up the conversation of mental health and suicide, campaigned for better support and raised over £31,000 for mental health charities @Calmzone and @ripplesuicideprevention. I know that this is exactly what Harrison would’ve wanted us to do as he never would’ve wanted anyone else to feel the way he did.
A quote I like to finish with is ‘the world is a better place with you in it’. I know Harrison didn’t realise this, but the world truly was, and I would do anything to have him back. Please remember there is so much support out there, especially during these challenging times.
To read more about the Positive Changes in Placements campaign, please follow @positivechangesinplacement on Instagram or @placementchange on Twitter