Guide for students affected by the sudden death of a peer

Outlining what happens following a sudden death and the support available, this guide is for any students affected by the sudden death of a UCL peer.

"My team and I are very sorry for the loss of a fellow UCL student. We understand this will be a traumatic and challenging time for you and other UCL students. We hope that this guide can help to answer some of your questions about your feelings and what happens next practically. It also outlines some organisations who can offer you extra help or advice if you need it. Do feel free to contact the UCL Student Support and Wellbeing team if you have questions. Please accept our deepest condolences and sympathy." - Denise Long, Director of Student Support and Wellbeing


After a sudden death, there are a number of necessary steps that will follow practically for the authorities and immediate family members. We hope this guide will help to explain what happens next.

Emotionally, you may experience shock, feelings of confusion, sadness and even anger, all of which are normal. This will be explained further in the 'How are you feeling?' section below. You will be provided details of various organisations which can offer you help in the short or longer term.

On this page:

What is the process after a sudden death?

Role of emergency services

Only a medical professional such as a paramedic will confirm an individual has died.

Often the police will also be involved to investigate the circumstances around the death. They will ask for information to determine the events leading up to the incident, e.g. names, time, what happened, actions taken, who discovered the deceased, the individual’s behaviour over the last few days, and if we are aware of any medical/mental health conditions.

Police may need to take away personal items belonging to the deceased for further investigation. Depending on the circumstances of the death, the police may assign a Family Liaison Officer.

Informing next of kin/family

Police are specially trained to have what can be a very difficult conversation with the next of kin. Police will try and do this in person but this is not always possible and occasionally they will do it via telephone.

It is important we respect the privacy of the family soon after a death, who may have not yet been informed or may not wish others to know for various reasons.

Coroner’s office

In England and Wales, sudden and unexplained deaths are reported to the coroner. The coroner may decide to investigate to determine cause of death. It is important not to assume the cause of death until this process has been completed.

The coroner’s office will advise next of kin/family about a postmortem examination, death certificate and funeral arrangements, taking into consideration any cultural and religious needs. 


A post-mortem is a medical examination carried out by a pathologist, who is a specialist doctor, to establish the cause of death. The coroner may require a post-mortem to be carried out and, if appropriate, they will also hold an inquest.

Formal identification

By law, the coroner must ensure that the person who has died is properly identified. This formal identification will usually be done by the next of kin, a relative or a close friend of the family, in the presence of a police officer or the coroner’s officer. However, if possible the police will try and make a formal identification on site. If the deceased is an international student, the police may inform the appropriate embassy.


The coroner will usually open an inquest very soon after death. This is a public court hearing to formally identify the person who has died and how, when and where the death happened. The purpose of the inquest is to discover the facts of the death. The inquest may be adjourned while further enquiries are made.

Social media

You may want to post a message about the death on your social media pages or the pages of the person who has died. Before you do, consider if there might be a more gentle way of letting people know as it can be very traumatic to learn something online when you have no support around you. This is even more so the case for close family members who have not yet been made aware of the death. 

Public Health England (PHE)

If the death was related to an infectious disease such as meningitis, then UCL would need to notify Public Health England (PHE) to ensure we are taking the appropriate measures to minimise numbers infected.

How are you feeling?

When you first hear someone you know has died you can experience a wide range of emotions, from initially feeling shock and loss, to sadness and even anger, all of which are completely normal.

Grief is unique as every individual, each person is impacted and affected in their own way because everyone is different. Some find it helpful to share feelings and thoughts, whilst others find it hard to cry and express their feelings. It’s important you listen to yourself and find your own way. Only you will know when you are ready to grieve in your own unique way. But it’s important to know there is no right or wrong way to feel.

What might help?

  • Express your feelings and thoughts – find your own way to express your emotions and feelings with someone you know or even someone new, like a Student Support and Wellbeing Adviser or the UCL Chaplain and Interfaith Adviser.
  • Stay connected with friends and family – it’s important to stay in contact with familiar people who will support you through this difficult time.
  • Take time to remember the person - visit a special place that reminds you of them, light a candle or release balloons with friends. Share fond memories of the individual with friends and family.
  • As much as possible try to participate in activities you enjoy sports, music, social events, particularly those you did together.
  • Spend time outside – it’s important to leave the house and spend time outside, especially if you shared the same residence.
  • Speaking with other people who are grieving can also help you.

What might not help?

  • Avoiding talking about what’s happened and not seeking help.
  • Drinking more or taking drugs.
  • Taking risks.
  • Making big decisions quickly.

Support available at UCL

Student Support and Wellbeing (SSW)

There is always help available to you throughout your time with us at UCL. Our professional staff can provide confidential and non-judgemental advice and support on a wide range of issues to make sure you get the most out of student life.

The SSW Disability, Mental Health and Wellbeing team, provides same-day appointments suitable for brief enquiries. If you need support with a more complex issue or enquiry you can request a longer appointment. The team can discuss the impact on your study with your department and provide you advice and guidance on submitting extenuating circumstances.

If you require more specialist support, SSW's Student Psychological and Counselling Services provide short-term counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy, psychiatric support and more.

UCL Chaplain and Interfaith Adviser

The Reverend Reid Humble, the UCL Chaplain and Interfaith Adviser within SSW, is available to listen and talk in complete confidence to all members of UCL, regardless of religious belief, about any concerns or issues they might have. He can also provide information for those of all faiths and nationalities looking to find a place of worship to attend in London.

If you would like to discuss issues around religion and faith, please get in touch with Reid to arrange a suitable time to meet in person or talk over the phone.

You can contact Reid by email at chaplaincy@ucl.ac.uk.

Visit other pages of the Student Support and Wellbeing website for more information. 

UCL 24/7 Student Support Line

UCL 24/7 Student Support Line is a free, confidential wellbeing support service, offered in 35+ languages, including sign, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

You can talk to an adviser by phone on: +44 (0) 808 238 0077.

Find out more about the UCL 24/7 Student Support Line, including contact details. 

Students’ Union UCL – Advice Service

Offers free, confidential and independent advice and support service on a range of issues.

Visit the Advice Service's website.

Other external organisations who offer support


Samaritans offer a free listening service for people who are sad, angry, depressed or finding things difficult any time – night or day.

Visit the Samaritans website.

Email the Samaritans.

Call the Samaritans on 116 123 (free phone). 

Cruse Bereavement Care 

Cruse Bereavement Care provide a national, free confidential bereavement service.

Visit the Cruse website. 

Call Cruse on +44 (0) 808 808 1677.

Facing the Future 

Facing the Future is a London support group for adults bereaved by suicide.

Visit the Facing the Future website.

Call Facing the Future on +44 (0) 20 8939 9560.


PAPYRUS is the national charity dedicated to the prevention of young suicide. Are you, or is a young person you know, not coping with life? For confidential suicide prevention advice contact them in the following ways.

Visit the PAPYRUS website. 


Call PAPYRUS on +44 (0) 800 068 4141.

Support after Suicide 

The Support after Suicide website provides information on emotional and practical support to people who have been bereaved or affected by suicide. It also includes the national Help is at Hand booklet, a guide for those affected by suicide.

Visit the Support after Suicide website. 

Met Bereavement Advice 

Met Bereavement Advice is a practical guide for people who have lost someone close to them.

Visit the Met Bereavement Advice website. 

WAY (Widowed and Young) 

WAY (Widowed and Young) is a charity supporting men and women aged 50 or under when their partner has died.

Visit the WAY website.