Mental health trust blames Covid for failures over Norwich student’s death

Norwich University of the Arts. Picture: Owen Richards

Norwich University of the Arts. Picture: Owen Richards - Credit: Archant

A mental health trust has admitted a Norwich student did not receive the help she needed in the months before she took her own life.

Tobi Stevens, 19, a publishing design student at Norwich University of the Arts, was found dead on December 4, 2020, at her flat at New Mills Yard after friends became concerned for her welfare.

An inquest into her death held on Monday heard she had a history of mental health problems going back to 2009, including self-harming, but that her struggles with anxiety and depression worsened during the pandemic.

Her half-sister, May Stevens, said despite earlier problems she had appeared to be more settled into university life and had made friends. 

“I feel that Tobi’s mental health was then hugely set back by the national lockdown in March 2020 when she had to go back to stay with her parents in Oxford,” she said.

She had been “shocked at how much things had started to deteriorate again” when she spoke to her sister in July 2020, she added.

The inquest heard the student, who had a love of gymnastics and had done modelling work, had attempted to take her life in Oxford.

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This was followed by a series of attempted overdoses after returning to Norwich in September 2020.

Assistant coroner Johanna Thompson said she had been referred by her GP to the youth mental health team but this had been expedited on September 23.

“Tobi was in the system but she was not flagged as urgent,” she said. “By the time she was eventually seen she was assessed as being at medium risk of suicide and at high risk of misadventure.” 

The Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) carried out an internal investigation which found a number of failures in her assessment and treatment, the inquest heard. 

Dr Linda Meina, lead consultant psychologist, said the trust’s response to Covid had meant cases “deemed to be routine were not being prioritised”.

She added: “Cases were lost within the system and I recognise it is not consolation at all to anyone involved but I think that Tobi was one of the cases where there were serious deficits in the way her assessment and treatment should have gone forward."

Reaching a conclusion of suicide, the assistant coroner said the NSFT had put in place plans to address failings. 

“It is clear there is a plan to try to make improvements happen. We can only hope that indeed does help,” she added.

If you need help and support, call Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust’s First Response helpline 0808 196 3494 or the Samaritans on 113 123. Both services are available 24 hours 7 days a week.  You can also download the Stay Alive app on Apple & Android.