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by Anjli Raval
October 14th, 2008
An inquest has heard that a University of York student who was found hanged last November had a history of bulimia and self-harm.
Third year Biochemistry student Laura Gerstel, 20, was found dead in her house on Fulford Road in the early hours of last November 26. She left a note referring to her weight saying that she did not wish “to live this way”.
She had also changed her status on Facebook to ‘Laura Gerstel is thinking if only…’ an hour before her death.
The inquest in York heard that Gerstel, from North Berwick in Scotland, began self harming at the age of 12 and was diagnosed with bulimia at 16. She had previously been referred to a psychiatric hospital after her parents found cuts on her wrists and legs.
In a statement her father Anthony Gerstel, said: “She would not let us help her. But when she was at university she sent us happy texts and sounded fine.” None of Gerstel’s family were present at the inquest.
Gerstel’s housemate, Emma Wellard, had been asleep at 4am on November 26 last year when she was woken by the screams of another housemate. Her statement said: “I came out of my room and saw Laura suspended from a red ribbon tied to the banister. My housemate phoned for an ambulance.
“I had known her for two years. She suffered from bulimia, took anti-depressants and did cut herself.”
Coroner Donald Coverdale dismissed a verdict of suicide as she had drunk the equivalent of two-and-a-half pints of beer the previous evening. Her father said in his statement that his daughter “became compulsive” when she drank.
Returning an open verdict, Coverdale said: “This is a very sad story. Laura had suffered from a number of medical and psychiatric difficulties, and unfortunately had harmed herself in the past.
“I am not aware of any previous attempts to take her own life. The note she left referring to her thoughts and feelings that she was overweight connects to her psychiatric difficulties,” he continued.
“The level of alcohol she had consumed may well have impacted on her judgment. Because of the uncertainty about her motives and the state of her mind due to the alcohol, I am going to record an open verdict. I’m afraid we shall never know what was in Laura’s mind,” Coverdale summarised.
After her death, Gerstel’s supervisor Jim Hoggett said: “Laura was an enthusiastic and bright student who was a pleasure to teach. She was very popular with staff and her fellow students and she will be much missed in the Departments of Biology and Chemistry where she studied.”
In the days following her death, friends used Facebook to post emotional tributes to Gerstel. Her close friend Robin Corey said: “Everyone who knew her loved her. She was one of the few people who it was always a genuine pleasure to be around and talk to, always so bright and bubbly and full of fun and laughter.”
YUSU Academic and Welfare Officer Charlie Leyland advised: “If you are feeling under pressure, upset or worried please tell someone. University is often one of the hardest and strangest experiences you’ll ever have. There is a myriad of people here to support you.”
“A problem shared is a problem halved. It’s never too late to get in touch with someone who can help you, no matter how small or big you think the problem is. If it’s important to you then it really is important to us. That’s what we are here for,” Leyland added.