A uni student killed herself after being given incorrect exam result

·4-min read
Photo credit: Klaus Vedfelt - Getty Images
Photo credit: Klaus Vedfelt - Getty Images

An inquest has heard how a 21-year-old university student took her own life, after being incorrectly told she had failed an exam and could not move onto her third year.

Mared Foulkes was studying pharmacy at the University of Cardiff and working part-time at a chemist when she re-sat one of her assessments in April 2020. But, just a few months later in July, she received an automated email from the university saying she had failed with a score of 39%. It was later revealed that this score wrongly referred to her original test, taken in March, and not her April re-sit, for which she actually scored a pass mark of 62%.

According to reports, after receiving the results Mared texted a friend saying, "I did crap." Later that evening, she sadly took her own life.

Speaking about her daughter's suicide, Iona Foulkes told the inquest: "She was devoted to her course and to her work in the pharmacy. She would have been horrified [by the result]. She would have felt like all her dreams and aspirations had finished – for a 21-year-old it’s unbelievable."

During the inquest, Ms Foulkes suggested there should be more direct support from universities and tutors when students receive their results – which Marwah El-Murad, Programme Manager for Children and Young People at the Mental Health Foundation, agrees with.

"Universities need to acknowledge the responsibility they have to safeguard students' mental health and should review policies and practices that exacerbate student stress," El-Murad told Cosmopolitan UK. "Administrative errors such as the one experienced by Mared can have a significant impact on a student's mental health."

On the topic of how universities can provide better support if students don't get the results they were hoping for, El-Murad says: "Students who receive low results in exams or coursework should be invited to a conversation with their tutor" – an idea which Mared's mother also suggested to the court in the aftermath of her daughter's death.

At the inquest into Mared's suicide, Professor Mark Gumbleton, Head of School at Cardiff University, said there were "lessons always to be learned" in relation to the "confusing" way students receive their results.

Photo credit: Klaus Vedfelt - Getty Images
Photo credit: Klaus Vedfelt - Getty Images

As well as offering additional mental health support, El-Murad stresses that it's important for universities to minimise the constant pressure students face to perform at a certain level. "The pressures put on students to achieve academically can lead to experiences of perfectionism," she points out. "Worrying about either your own expectations of yourself or expectations others have of you can lead to feelings of panic and anxiety."

This anxiety, if left untreated, can spiral out of control and in worst case scenarios, can lead to depression and suicidal thoughts. But, while many universities have amped up their mental health support programmes for students, Mared's story proves there's still a long way to go.

"Universities need to take a whole-university preventative approach to student mental health," says El-Murad, suggesting that they offer better training to course tutors to help recognise the signs of mental health problems, and open up peer-to-peer wellbeing workshops to "help start conversations on campus about student mental health."

Until those conversations are commonplace on university campuses, mental health charity Samaritans reminds us that they're always available to offer support. "We know that many people find it hard to speak openly or ask for help when they are struggling but talking can be life-saving – whether it’s with a family member, friend or a confidential helpline like Samaritans," says Sophie, a listening volunteer at the organisation.

In light of Mared's tragic death, the charity is urging anyone dealing with anxiety, depression or suicidal thoughts not to struggle in silence. "Often when a person is suicidal, they can lose sight of life ever feeling OK again, and can’t see a way through things," Sophie explains, "however it’s important to know that these feelings are temporary, and they will pass. It’s also important to remember that help and support is available."

Samaritans are here to listen, day or night, whenever anyone needs, providing a safe and confidential space to talk openly and honestly. Whatever you are going through, you don’t have to face it alone. Call Samaritans free on 116 123, email jo@samaritans.org or visit www.samaritans.org.

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