A 19-year-old student with a history of anxiety took his own life while self-isolating due to Covid-19 during the UK’s first national lockdown.
Finn Kitson, from Cambridge, was told to isolate along with the rest of his household for two weeks after a flatmate tested positive for coronavirus, an inquest heard.
Finn had only arrived at the flat nine days earlier ready to start his politics and international relations studies at the University of Manchester.
Manchester Coroner’s Court heard on Monday (24 January) that he had just come back to the UK after spending five weeks abroad, and returned to find the UK under national lockdown in March 2020.
His gap year travelling with friends in south-east Asia had already been disrupted due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
Mr Kitson’s mother, Jane Denney, told the inquest: “I think it was quite an awful time.
“He had all this excitement for his gap year and of course it all got cut short and he came back to not being able to do anything. He couldn’t get a job.”
Mrs Denney said the summer months for her son, who had recently broken up with his girlfriend, were “miserable”, but she genuinely believed he was “excited” about moving to Manchester to start university in September and was “looking forward to the next stage of his life”.
‘He felt very isolated’
The 19-year-old met up with friends who were also studying in Manchester and socialised as much as he could before a fellow student in his halls of residence in Fallowfield tested positive, the inquest was told.
It was later during his isolation period that the university decided all tutorials would be held remotely due to rising infection rates in the area.
Mrs Denney said: “I know he felt very very isolated – literally – and he didn’t really leave his room very much at all.
“He didn’t know the people in his flat either.”
On 30 September, Finn attended a Zoom session with his academic adviser.
The university’s residential life advisers would also regularly contact students living in halls, although no evidence was provided that Finn was either seen or spoken to during his self-isolation.
A history of anxiety
On 8 October 2020, security staff found him hanging in his room, a day after his family raised concerns and two days before the self-isolation period was due to end.
Finn had previously been diagnosed with anxiety at the age of 14 or 15 and was later prescribed the anti-depressant fluoxetine. He also underwent therapy with a consultant psychiatrist.
The inquest heard that he stopped taking fluxoxetine after he returned from his interrupted gap year, as he told his mother he felt “much better”.
Recording a conclusion of suicide, area coroner Zak Golombeck said: “It is clear that the Covid-19 pandemic had an affect on his plans, both earlier on in the year in respect of his travel and then more approximately to his death, and somewhat more significantly to his mood in the period of isolation that he had to undergo.
“This would be, of course, a difficult period for any person starting a university course in a city with which they are not fully familiar.
“I have no doubt that that period of isolation would have had an effect on his mental health.”
Helping to prevent further deaths
Mr Golombeck said he would write a Prevention of Future Deaths report to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Services (Ucas).
On his Ucas application form, Finn had not disclosed his anxiety diagnosis, but the coroner said the wording of the form did not encourage students to confirm this.
Instead, prospective students were simply asked to confirm whether they had a “disability or special need”.
Mr Golombeck stressed that this did not contribute to the teenager’s death but it was “certainly an issue of concern”.
Following the inquest, Mrs Denney and Finn’s father, Michael Kitson, said in a statement: “Finn was a beautiful and brilliant young man, and his family miss him desperately.
“We are very pleased that this inquest has shone a spotlight on mental health provision in universities. We welcome the coroner’s prevention of future deaths report on this very important issue.”
Help can be found by calling the Samaritans free of charge at any time on 116 12, by emailing [email protected] or by visiting Samaritans.org.