do I step in or leave ds to it?

(65 Posts)
sisyphusisalive Wed 22-Jan-14 14:36:27

ds1 is having mh issues and last week the GP told him he has anxiety and paranoia issues and prescribed ad. he thinks (and I sort of agree) it may be related to autism and she told him it was very hard to get an adult dx but would find out. His db has severe autism and these issues are more like ocd/anxiety/panic or poss ptsd

last week (before he saw the GP) he rang crying as he was in the middle of what I interpreted as a panic attack - he was standing on the street unable to move and petrified not knowing what was happening to him

he told me he had been self harming and when on the tube wondered what it would be like to jump on the tracks though he didn't think he'd ever do it. he has missed some lectures and said we might get a letter home

I managed to talk him through going to the walk in centre by the uni but when he went in he came straight out and rang me crying again because he said everyone was looking at him. I then persuaded him to go up to the student services to see the counsellors there but when he went he just stood at the door unable to go in as he could see lots of people in there. that's when I rang his GP and got him an emergency appt when she gave him ad

I am trying to persuade him to let uni know he is having mh issues so that they can either support him or at least bear it in mind should his absenteeism get worse or he walks out of an exam with no explanation but he's too scared to email or go to see them because they will want to talk to him and he finds it too intimidating

Should I email his tutor or the disability department? I know he is over 18 and so it has nothing to do with me but I want to help him as he doesn't seem to be in a position to do it himself. He has said he doesn't mind but he won't talk to anyone from uni about it and I'm reluctant to be seen as a parent interfering

Sorry its long

MrsBright Wed 22-Jan-14 14:47:42

Email his tutor. That person needs to know that he is ill, and that he is having paranoid episodes. You aren't breaking a confidence. The Uni needs to know in case he suddenly rocks up there, and his tutor may also have suggestions about what you should do next - your son won't be the first student to have had a MH wobble.

In the scenario you describe I would forget what anyone else might think and interfere away. I would ring as well a emailing.I would ring the tutor and the counselling services. Has he got a GP there?
He may be 18 but he is ill and needs help.
My DS has had a few wobbles and it would be my worst nightmare that he was all alone at Uni and would never dare approach anyone for help.
I hope he is ok.

SlowlorisIncognito Wed 22-Jan-14 16:08:48

If he is ill enough to be having suicidal thoughts then I think you should let his tutor know if you can. There is a lot of support for these sorts of issues at university, but they can only help if they know what is going on. They may not be willing to discuss it with you in detail, but at least you know you have made them aware.

It would be really really good if he could contact his tutor himself though. Would he be willing to send an email instead of discussing it face to face? If he sent an email, he could authorise his tutor to discuss things with you, which might make everyone's lives a bit easier. Eventually, someone will probably want to discuss his absences with him, and it's not a good idea to ignore this.

Do you think taking a leave of absence from university might help him?

creamteas Wed 22-Jan-14 16:55:20

Yes please do notify the university, they will listen and take seriously what you say, although they will not necessarily be able to tell you anything in return.

UptheChimney Wed 22-Jan-14 16:56:59

Email his Department, and also ring the Departmental administrator or secretary. THey often are quite close to the students. Ask them to pass on the information to the relevant person, who could then contact your son.

But see if you can find a way of supporting him to approach his tutor, or respond if/when his tutor contact s him.

He really will have to sort it out somehow. If he makes contact with the student MH or medical service, they can often accompany him to meetings with staff. Or facilitate such meetings. I know I've attended a meeting with a student, in a student counsellor's office -- it was a very productive 3-way meeting. Better than seeing a student in hospital which I've also had to do ...

That's the immediate thing.

But the bigger question is -- Is he well enough to be studying at the moment?

Shootingatpigeons Wed 22-Jan-14 18:13:37

When my DD had a wobble, I arranged for her to visit the university GP practise, and talked her in, and they instituted a process that involved Counsellors and tutor. I also communicated with her tutor to provide background (there was a perfect storm of catalysts) though making it clear I understood that she could not communicate with me in return, and I was not in any way expecting to influence the support given to my DD. I think there is a very great difference between being a demanding helicopter parent and making sure the university has the information it needs to provide support if your DC can't or won't seek help because of their state of mind. It actually has everything to do with you as you are his main source of support at the moment and about the only person apart from his GP who understands the situation.

One of the defining characteristics of many forms of mental illness is that those suffering either have such low esteem they will not seek help or are in a state of mind that means that they can't seek or refuse to seek help. Making sure that those who can help are aware of the problem isn't interfering.

Could the GP he has seen perhaps write to his tutor, or the university GPs or Counselling Centre, or all three? If your DC knows that they already know about his problems then accessing their help might not seem so formidable? They might also be able to advise on the best next step. Once my DDs uni knew what was going on a very well oiled process kicked in.

sisyphusisalive Wed 22-Jan-14 19:38:09

Thanks for the replies. I emailed him a draft message to send to his tutor (just saying sorry for absence, having some mh issues) and he forwarded back what he sent her. In it he had added that he didn't feel able to talk about any of it which makes me wonder if she may think he is making it all up.

He sounded positive this evening, talking very quickly though as if either very excited or very stressed. He didn't notice he was speaking any differently but thought the drug was helping. He contributed to his seminar discussion this afternoon which normally he is reluctant to do without being asked so thats a first.

SlowlorisIncognito I'm not sure if wondering what it would be like to jump on the lines is the same as actually wanting to do it - but perhaps I'm wrong? I'm finding the whole thing difficult to come to terms with and I think I'm only seeing what I can cope with rather than what may actually be going on. A leave of absence wouldn't be a good idea. He loves being in London rather than in the backwater here. He loves his course too which is a real bonus. If he was here , he would spend all day just thinking about why he wasn't there which I don't think would be good for him.

UptheChimney I think he is able to study - he's doing English so a lot of it is reading. He said he had enjoyed sitting in Hyde park this afternoon reading a novel in the sunshine. He passed 2 of his modules with a 2:1 at Christmas but missed getting the results of the other two. I just hope the results are good and will boost his confidence

Shootingatpigeons I will ask him to consider asking the GP (its a London GP near to his student house) to write to his tutor although surely she would be bound by patient confidentiality and not able to give any more detail than he has already done so? As with your dd, this seems to be a perfect storm of catalysts too which is why I thought it could be ptsd. I'm not sure how much detail he has told the GP and I don't feel it is my place to tell her his story so to speak.

Today he had a call from someone about his CBT referral, they asked him some questions which he said was some sort of pre- interview to see if CBT would be appropriate.

What should I be doing anything now he has touched base with his tutor other than being on the end of the phone or by the computer to read the emails?

senua Wed 22-Jan-14 19:47:19

Do you have the phone numbers of people he is sharing halls with, and do they have yours? They will be the first to notice if, for example, he doesn't leave his bedroom for a few days.

Well done to him for e-mailing the tutor. Hope all goes well.

Shootingatpigeons Thu 23-Jan-14 00:36:17

It is not his tutors job to decide whether he is making it all up, nor frankly does their personal opinion matter, it is their job to make sure that he gets the support needed so that his MH does not, as far as possible, affect the outcome of his degree. If it comes to the point where they need to implement the process where they consider extenuating circumstances in relation to exams, leave of absence etc. then the tutor will need some form of doctor's note, and to act on it. I am sure Doctors know exactly what they can, and is appropriate to divulge, and I think that is dependent on the extent to which the patient agrees to them divulging the information. Certainly with my DD the Doctor agreed the course of action in terms of letter to tutor, referral to Counsellor etc.

UptheChimney Thu 23-Jan-14 07:20:24

It is not his tutors job to decide whether he is making it all up

However, ultimately academic staff must make a decision about a student -- mitigating circumstances included -- based on a professional judgement of academic progress. This is the bottom line.

The DDA requires us to make "reasonable adjustments" if we have the evidence. But sometimes -- not talking about this case or the OP's son -- students' notions of "reasonable adjustment" are not "reasonable" in academic terms.

But it sounds as though the OP, her son, and the university & health professionals are all doing the right thing, and it looks as though the OP's son is going to manage eventually. It can be a slow process, however.

Shootingatpigeons Thu 23-Jan-14 08:14:09

Up the chimmney what I mean is that they must make that judgement, about reasonable adjustment, based on expert medical opinion, it is not their job to diagnose whether a student is suffering from genuine mental illness or not. Academics suffer from the same prejudices as the rest of the population and I am quite sure that plenty think some students are being self indulgent and might themselves diagnose, if it were left to them, that they "just need to pull themselves together" because that is such a common attitude to mental illness. However OP should not worry whether as she put it " she may think he is making it all up" because even if she does he has a medical diagnosis and the tutor must act on the basis of that.

UptheChimney Thu 23-Jan-14 08:20:24

In it he had added that he didn't feel able to talk about any of it which makes me wonder if she may think he is making it all up

From the OP's 2nd post, and the OP's belief about the tutor is pretty much without foundation, frankly -- it is the OP's son who "doesn't feel able to talk" to his tutor. And this could have absolutely nothing to do with the tutor's attitude, beliefs or whatever. It reads as though it's a symptom of his current ill-health. (It's a typical symptom of some types of illness).

Most tutors want students to cope, and actually to thrive! we invest a lot of resources (time, money, energy, thought) into teaching. But as the OP knows, we can't do this if students don't engage. And we can't reasonably be expected to.

So it's good to hear that the OP's son is making progress in working out how to get support and hopefully, eventually to cope. The fact that he spoke up in a seminar is excellent. He should set that as a goal each seminar. Baby steps.

creamteas Thu 23-Jan-14 08:27:07

Shooting I'm not disagreeing with you that tutors should not be in the business of making medial judgements, but quite often that is what we are faced with.

We have to rely on the evidence provided by the student, and this is often either absent or poor quality.

Sometimes students tells us about a MH issue, but will not provide anything from a health professional to support the claim.

It is also not uncommon to get GP letters that state things like 'student X has told me they are anxious'. All this tells us is that the student has stated it, but does not give a diagnosis.

In both these cases, it is down to tutors to make a judgement, relucaant as we may be.

Clearly we much prefer it when health professionals write 'student X has a diagnosis of anxiety' or 'I have assessed student x and I recommend.....' but this doesn't always happen.

Shootingatpigeons Thu 23-Jan-14 08:32:53

Up the Chimmney we are not arguing. I know about, being a PhD student myself, and have personal experience of, the excellent support unis and many tutors give, as I have highlighted. However I also have extensive experience of supporting, not just my DDs wobble, but a bipolar friend, and you do worry about other people's attitudes, sometimes with good reason, and do have to think about how you approach certain situations eg with employers, in the light of that. The point I am making is that with a diagnosis a university tutor will put into train processes that will support her son. The OP doesn't need to worry about handling prejudice, even in the event it occurs.

Pigsmummy Thu 23-Jan-14 08:43:05

Can you go to visit him? Sit with him and work out plan and support network?

Shootingatpigeons Thu 23-Jan-14 09:01:08

cream teas I do understand but I am not talking about situations where the medical profession have not made a clear diagnosis, and one of my earlier points was the importance of making sure that the tutor has the information they need to enable them to support her son. In this case the GP has made a clear diagnosis, of anxiety and paranoia, possibly related to autism. If I were OP I would be making sure that the tutor has that information, and not worrying about whether I should be involved or what the tutors personal attitudes might be. I know all about the issue of helicopter parents inappropriately poking their noses into their adult DCs university affairs, however if their DC suffers from MH that is the time for a parent to get involved to make sure they get the right help and that the university have the necessary information to support them (without expecting the uni to interact with them or trying to dictate them how they should do that) because they are only young and quite apart from the fact MH problems themselves may inhibit their ability to do that, they may not have the skills or confidence. Whilst there might be students who have the confidence to attempt to "swing the lead" it is precisely the ones with a genuine MH problem who need the support who may fall under the radar

2rebecca Thu 23-Jan-14 14:55:19

I'd be taking a few days off work to go and visit him, decide if he's well enough to study, encourage him to see tutors etc offering to go with him and generally supporting him.
Panic disorder and autism are 2 very different diagnoses. It needs clarifying, an adult psychiatrist would be appropriate if the GP isn't sure what's going on. They don't need to be an autism expert in the first instance.

sisyphusisalive Thu 23-Jan-14 17:05:41

I went to see him on monday and we spent the day sorting out admin stuff like free prescription application, poll tax exemption and an amazon return all of which he had said he couldn't manage. I took him for lunch and we talked about his symptoms and the tablets and how to move forward. 2rebecca I did offer to go down to the uni and go to student services with him but he said no. dh meets him once a week for lunch in whitehall too

I have told him to ask the GP for a psychiatric assessment as he seems desperate to know what is wrong with him.

senua I don't have his housemates numbers but could get hold of them via facebook if I needed to.

upthechimney you are right, there is no reason to suggest the tutor may not believe him but I figured she might hear it all the time and not take it seriously unless there was some additional proof. ds says she is ok but he didn't mention in his email to her anything about the Dr or the tablets. I figured that she would give more gravitas to it if he was for example registered with student services as having a mh issue which he seems unwilling to do

As for panic disorder and autism being 2 very different diagnoses, when his db has had meltdowns over seemingly illogical things, it has manifested with hyperventilating, can't move off the spot, shaking, sometimes self harm and overwhelming terror which he can't explain and I have always assumed that was what a panic attack was and an extension of his anxieties which are part and parcel of his autism. ds is genetically pre-disposed to autism.

I will ask him if he minds me emailing his tutor or encourage him to send another one elaborating a little further to mention the medication and dx

So grateful for the replies - feel so crap about it all and am worried about what shootingatpigeons said about potential employers being prejudiced. Like the lady on R4 woman's hour on monday, I feel very jealous of my friends with "normal" children.

creamteas Thu 23-Jan-14 18:55:45

Did your DS tick the disability box on his UCAS form?

If so, he should automatically be 'known' to the disability unit and/or student support.

Does he have a learning mentor? If not, it sounds as if it might be helpful. He might need his DSA reassessing to pay for it though.

sisyphusisalive Thu 23-Jan-14 19:19:00

No creamteas he didn't tick the box on his ucas form - it was submitted in Oct 2011 when all appeared to be fine though I think I subconsciously chose not to recognise things which now I think were tell tale signs something was amiss. He had a gap year so this is his first year.

No he doesn't have a learning mentor afaik - not sure what it is - is it like an lsa?

Doesn't get a dsa - not sure he would qualify.

creamteas Thu 23-Jan-14 19:44:35

Your DS is probably only getting a fraction of the support he should be as he is not registered as having a disability.

If you can, please get him to contact the disability unit and officially tell the university. Once this has happened, the university will be able to sort a formal assessment and put in place support and make reasonable adjustments to his programme of study.

He is almost certainly entitled to DSA, I have never known a student with Autism not qualify.

Most of our students with Autism have a learning mentor. Support varies as it is tailored to the individual, ours are trained by NAS (see here)

Shootingatpigeons Thu 23-Jan-14 23:56:32

sisyphusisalive Your son is having problems now but that is not to say that with the right help your son will not recover / find ways to cope and thrive with support. Plenty of students with MH problems / Autism recover and thrive. My DD has had really good internships, and is now en route with Masters and almost certainly PhD funding, though it is clear from her transcript of results there was a wobble. It's there but so is all the other evidence. Your son is clearly able.

I am sorry if what I said came over as negative, my bipolar friend is much older and the circumstances very different. The point I wanted to make is that you worry about encountering this prejudice but that is not to say it exists. It does not in any university environment I have encountered.

PenelopePipPop Fri 24-Jan-14 12:37:42

Sisyphus I doubt the tutor will think he is making it up. I never work on that presumption - and I've never encountered a student making up MH issues.

Plus, having dealt with a lot of students with MH issues by now your son's behaviour is very normal. There is no reason why he should tell his tutor everything in an e-mail when this is a very delicate subject and he is already highly anxious. It is much more typical for students to approach me saying they are worried about coursework performance (when their grades, like your DS's are actually OK) or are struggling to handle lectures and can we meet and when we meet it all comes out.

Acute anxiety is sadly incredibly common amongst undergraduates. The university should have encountered it before and have good procedures in place for supporting him. The details of their disability policies etc should all be online.

Also your son is awesome - he got good results at Christmas even though it is his first term and he is facing all this adversity. I've taught a number of students with MH issues who have amazed me with their tenacity and ability to do well in the face of really hideous symptoms. You should be really proud of his achievements.

SlowlorisIncognito Fri 24-Jan-14 13:35:02

Sisyphus I'm really sorry if I scared you by saying he is having suicidal thoughts. Having suicidal thoughts is not the same as wanting to commit suicide, however, he has thought about the act of commiting suicide. I'm not making this very clear, but all I really meant was that he appears to be having fairly serious issues where it would be appropriate for a parent (or someone else) to contact his tutor.

I agree with creamteas that I don't think your son is getting anywhere near the help he is entitled to from the university. I am not certain, but I think that he would be entitled to DSA. DSA is much easier to get than DLA- most people with dyslexia are entitled to DSA for example. It would be used to provide adjustments that might help your son cope with university better.

Are they aware of his anxiety at all? It would be really good if he could make this known to them. I know not all people with anxiety need things like special adjustments when taking exams, but if this is something he thinks he might need, then he needs to make the university aware ASAP. Unfortunately, it is usually to late to sort things like this easily when the exam season is reached.

It is best if he makes people aware of his issues before they start affecting his accademic work (if he wishes to continue at university).

The problem with the support that is available at universities is that whilst it is very good, usually students need to ask for some help. I would really encourage him to ask for support from the university!

sisyphusisalive Sun 26-Jan-14 09:23:23

Thanks for the replies - I know the uni would probably be more than happy to support him but as you know, the request has to come from him and he just doesn't want the attention. I'm going to encourage him to ask the GP to write to his tutor as he likes the GP and I think he could manage that.

Haven't spoken to him for a few days but will also send him a template for an email which he can send to student services.

Thanks again - really appreciate the support given here smile

PenelopePipPop Sun 26-Jan-14 15:38:53

That is an excellent idea, at the very least having a letter from the GP on file will be handy if he needs to ask for extenuating circumstances around the time of assessments (in our case it would mean we could offer extensions on coursework or first sit examinations in Sept instead of May and this would not prejudice his grades in anyway - whereas if he sits and fails in May his resit would be capped).

But if you are concerned at any time it would be OK to contact either the tutor or administrator responsible for the undergrad programme he is on and let them know what is happening. If you copy your son in they will know he is in the loop and can reply to both of you saying 'That sounds rough. Here are some of the things we can do to help when he feels ready.' That way you avoid the data protection issues that arise if you approach them without his knowledge (because obviously we shouldn't discuss an adult's mental health with his mother without his consent) but ensure they get a fuller picture than he may give himself.

I hope he starts to feel better soon.

UptheChimney Mon 27-Jan-14 07:14:41

Would it help to tell him that we've seen it all before? Sometimes students carry a huge amount of guilt for having a problem, and this stops them from seeking help because they feel they don't deserve it.

It sounds callous (and you wouldn't say this) but honestly, his problems are not unusual, and not particularly special or out of the ordinary for university staff to deal with. We're used to it.

If there's a more tactful way to assure him of this -- that we won't fall about & treat him as a freakish exception -- could it help?

sisyphusisalive Mon 27-Jan-14 14:14:14

Just had another tearful call from ds to tell me he has self harmed again due to a lecturer telling him he couldn't write an essay and needed to read a book about academic writing. He got a 2:2 and his best friend on the course failed hers. Didn't seem to want to hear that two other lecturers had given him 2:1s and that a 2:2 was still a pass so he was still doing well.

I am wondering if the tutor would have disclosed the contents of the email he sent her with the other staff, surely she would have? Is there a set procedure for doing so or would it be something she raises at a departmental meeting? I assume there is nothing akin to a school staffroom where such things might be passed on.

I realise that everything he told me is going to be a huge exaggeration due to his mh problems and whatever was said, was intended to be be nothing more than constructive criticism but he is now questioning his whole raison d'etre as the essay was on one of his favourite authors and he thinks if he couldn't get a 2:1 on an author he knows tons about, he must be useless.

He has one more feedback tutorial due. Should he just postpone it in case its too much for him to cope with or should he email his tutor again to see if she has passed on the fact that he has mh and is likely to over react so that the tutor cushions any feedback? They can't really pussyfoot around the fact that his essay was a 2:2 and needed work on it though. I'm sure she wouldn't have been ripped it to pieces anyway.

creamteas Mon 27-Jan-14 14:26:34

Usually tutor cannot disclose personal information related to disability unless either the student has formally told the university about the disability or the student has given permission.

In most universities, it is the disability unit that notifies all relevant staff, and over guidance on adjustments to assessment/feedback. Without the disability unit being involved, I think your DS will continue to struggle.

I really cannot stress how important it is that the disability unit is involved. They are the ones with the authority and expertise to ensure everything is done to support your DS. Without them, any adjustments (if they happen at all) will be patchy

sisyphusisalive Mon 27-Jan-14 15:10:46

creamteas he's too scared to go through the door - he got as far as the door last week but couldn't open it. Would the GP writing to the disability unit suffice? I'm pretty sure if they contacted him, he would talk to them and more than likely welcome it and feel relieved, but its making that initial contact which is too frightening for him at the moment.

I have forwarded another draft for an email for him to send to his tutor asking her to disclose the contents of his email to the other staff. I shouldn't be doing any of this but don't know how else to help.

PenelopePipPop Mon 27-Jan-14 16:20:19

I absolutely would not discuss a student's MH issues disclosed to me in my capacity as personal tutor with colleagues. If seriously concerned I would raise them with our Uni MH services or student health services etc depending on what intervention was required. But usually only after notifying the student. I'd also sometimes talk to our Director of Undergrad Studies, again after notifying the student.

So the negative feedback will have been formulated independent of knowledge of your son's mental state. But even if whoever wrote it knw what was going on presumably you would still want them to give accurate feedback? A sensible adjustment if your son feels this distressed by feedback should be talking to academic support services, his personal tutor and possibly the disability team to understand how normal this and place it in context. But even then, as you are finding, seriously anxious people can over-interpret any mildly negative signal as a sign that they are a failure.

You are dead right he is almost certainly over-interpreting the feedback because of his anxiety. First year students often struggle to structure written work and I'd hazard a guess he's been told something like 'You make some interesting points and I like the way you do ...., but the structure of your argument is confusing to follow and your conclusions are therefore unconvincing. Try reading 'Very Dull Book on Writing Essays' for some help on addressing this.' The other thing to point out is that people sometimes over-reach on subjects they love and come a cropper simply because they are so motivated - they put in the original arguments which would never occur to them on a subject they don't care about. And because they are novice scholars sometimes this pays off and they get a first and sometimes they come a cropper. But it may not be coincidence that he got a worse mark for an essay on an author he loved.

Whilst I agree with Creamteas that the Uni disability team can help with adjustments the fundamental problem still sounds like he is acutely distressed and that situation will hopefully not persist. He really needs to see his GP agin urgently, possibly consider leave, even if just for a fortnight, so he does not need to feel guilty about being unable to attend classes (after all students get flu too) and allow himself some time to focus on getting a recovery plan in place without the distraction and stress of thinking about grades.

UptheChimney Mon 27-Jan-14 17:16:19

EVERYTHING creamteas and PenelopePipPop say. Really.

Even if you need to "helicopter" just this once, can you walk him through the door, and sit with him while he explains. His tutor would not have told her colleagues, and anyway without a Learning Disabilities agreement (they're called different things in different universities) no tutor can do anything to mitigate.

A 2, ii is a perfectly respectable result, especially in First year. He should not be measuring his learning simply by a number.

But all of this is symptomatic of an underlying condition which seems quite acute at the moment. And the subject he's studying is one in which self-reflection and self-examination can become quite powerful and sometimes negatively reinforce a student's mental ill-health or out-of-kilterness.

Frankly, he really doesn't sound fit to study a the moment. I know that students cling on to their studies as the last bit of "normality" (whatever that is) they have if their health is spiralling out of control, and I do understand that. If something else is messing up your life, you want to keep the thing that you're good at going. But a degree is not therapy. I'd be advising a break so he can learn some coping techniques, and perhaps find a medication regime that will help with the crippling anxiety.

creamteas Mon 27-Jan-14 17:25:32

sisphus I really think you misunderstand the role of the personal tutor. They are there to help with academic issue. Yes, we deal with routine welfare concerns, but we are not trained to deal with anything beyond that. Expecting the tutor to sort out support is not fair to either your DS nor the tutor concerned.

I know that you are focusing on the tutor because your DS is comfortable with them, but this is not really helpful as they cannot help with the underlying issues. If your DS cannot go to student support on his own, you really need to take him.

Unless your DS accepts the support from the people who are qualified to give it he will not succeed.

UptheChimney Mon 27-Jan-14 18:02:34

Indeed, at my place we are expressly told NOT to try to "solve" a student's non-academic problems, but be a point of first contact and refer on

Which is just as well. I mean, I'm a nice wise person & all that, but I'm not a trained counsellor or mental health expert.

SlowlorisIncognito Mon 27-Jan-14 18:23:59

If I am completely honest, I am not sure he is well enough to be at university right now. This doesn't have to mean dropping out entirely. He could possibly get extenuating circumstances to cover a short period if the issues he is having can be resolved relatively quickly. Alternatively, he could consider a leave of absence, returning to the same university and course next year.

The feedback he was given is not especially harsh, and sounds like it was designed to be helpful. Many students come to university struggling to structure essays properly in various ways, and reading a book on accademic writing could really help him. Getting a 2.2 for the reason of knowing the content, but not being able to express it in the best way possible is something that is quite common, I believe.

I don't think it would be massively helpful to him accademically to not recieve any feedback of this sort, and accademics cannot give him a good grade just because recieving a poor one will distress him. Support can be given to him to help him cope with the negative feedback though. Maybe I am misinterpreting, but it sounds like any negative feedback would be distressing to him at this time. Yes, maybe if accademics were aware of his issues, they could phrase things differently or try to avoid being too blunt- however it sounds more like it is the lower grade and criticism in general that has upset him?

Obviously, extenuating circumstances may apply to some pieces of work, but he will usually have to apply for this formally, with supporting evidence from his doctor.

I know it is really difficult for him, but he really needs to contact disability services in order to access the help he needs. It is very likely his tutor will only refer him on to them anyway. Accademic tutors can sometimes have a pastoral role, but they are not qualified to deal with serious mental health issues.

sisyphusisalive Mon 27-Jan-14 18:37:00

Yes I have wrongly assumed what the role of the personal tutor is - apologies to you all. He has another GP appt tmrw but I think I shall suggest going up to London on Wednesday or Friday and as UptheChimney suggests, physically walking him into the disability dept.

Not sure how a mother walking into their son's uni is not going to look like helicoptering but it seems there is little else I can do. Maybe I'll email them in advance as I don't want to go all that way only to be told we need to book an appt to come back another time.

Really am very grateful for all the help and support here

UnicornCentaur Mon 27-Jan-14 19:33:26

This happened to me and I'm happy to help in any way I can. The circumstances were quite similar really, from a backwater, moved to London and after a while things went wrong. Perfect storm again but in my case it all seemed to go wrong frighteningly quickly. in hindsight it didn't but I remember being absolutely terrified that things changed that quickly in a week.

in my case I ended up taking a year off but am still dealing with mh issues - this may not happen to your D's

my mum did phone the disability office because I couldn't tell them much. They will not tell you anything without ds's permission but will listen to you and will give you generic info about what options he has. I would really encourage him to go and see them first and explain all he can.

I was exactly the same and wanted to know what was causing it so I went down the CMHT route for assessment but didn't get anywhere with it. No-one could have convinced me not to do it, but if your ds chooses to do this it might be worth managing his expectations and explaining that mh services are being cut all over.

hope that's helpful and you are more than welcome to pm me if you would like

creamteas Mon 27-Jan-14 19:45:33

If you can take him to the disability unit is the best way forward, and do ring and get an appointment, they can be really busy.

Disability units are quite used to dealing with parents when there are complex disabilities, although clearly they need to have the students permission.

You won't be seen as a helicopter parent in these circumstances, and the university will want to help things get sorted out.

For what it is worth, at my uni all students with Autism are encouraged to have transition and orientation sessions before they start. This can range from a couple of meetings to sitting in a number of classes over a period of months (if they have a gap year). If your DS needs to take a LOA, ask if they can put in arrangements to keep in touch with the university will he is off, so he is better prepared on his return.

PenelopePipPop Mon 27-Jan-14 20:27:44

It is NOT helicopter parenting to go and help your seriously ill son get the support he needs.

Helicoptering is ringing up to complain if little Johnny failed an assignment when the primary reason for this was that little Johnny never attended any lectures and was out drinking all the time. And reports of it happening seem sadly exaggerated to me. I long for a call from a parent in these circs but have never had one.

If you are there to support your son you will be treated with respect and taken seriously I can assure you.

chemenger Tue 28-Jan-14 08:32:00

You most definitely are not helicoptering by helping your son get through this. I am always happy to listen to parents, even though they have to understand sometimes I can't really reply. Often it is a relief to get the piece of information that makes the jigsaw of a student's behaviour fall in to place. Parents are usually lovely and sometimes my heart breaks for them trying to help students in horrible situations.

Helicoptering is the mother who phoned me in a towering rage because nobody had given her son a timetable and he did not know where to go (in the second week of his second year). I had to point out he was the only student in our department who had failed to meet with his tutor for a 1 to 1 appointment, which I had sent him a letter about in the summer vacation, that I had repeatedly contacted him to rearrange when he failed to turn up. (I can laugh now, but it was pretty unpleasant having this woman haranguing me down the phone, its not as much fun as you think Penelope!)

UptheChimney Tue 28-Jan-14 09:58:05

Yeah, I've had those sorts of calls too, chemenger. I did once quite deliberately tell a parent I was about to break the law, and then told him just exactly how his child's behaviour had had a deleterious effect on other students' work.

Good luck, OP. But do think about talking your son through a leave of absence. He sounds too fragile at the moment to deal with ordinary feedback.

SlowlorisIncognito Tue 28-Jan-14 17:45:09

One member of university staff told me that a student's mother phoned up and asked if it was possible to get an end of term report. That is helicopter parenting.

Universities do make allowances for disability. For example, during the first two years of my degree I worked answering phones/emails in my university's admissions office- this included manning the telephones during clearing. Normally, it is very important for the student to ring themselves during clearing- however some students have disabilities which prevent them from using the phone, and in this case we would sometimes use a parent as an interpreter to arrange a more appropriate method of communication.

If going with your son is what enables him to speak to disability support, then do it. Booking an appointment would be a good idea, especially if you can explain the issues involved, as then you can hopefully see a knowledgable member of staff.

Do you feel your son has deteriorated rappidly? If so, it may be worth trying to arrange extenuating circumstances just for a week or two to see if this helps him become more stable and sort out some support without having other pressures on his time. He won't be the first student to ask for this.

UptheChimney Wed 29-Jan-14 08:41:18

There was an interesting piece I half caught a bit of in the other room on Woman's Hour yesterday about anxiety. Might be worth iPlayering.

sisyphusisalive Wed 29-Jan-14 11:36:22

Just listened to the Womans Hour clip thanks UptheChimney I followed the link that they recommended and found the service that he has been referred to for CBT.

Long phone call last night during which he categorically refused to go to the disability unit with or without me as it would involve talking to people and even if I did the talking, they would be looking at him. He realises however that that is what he needs to do but kept talking about everything being a paradox. He didn't mind if I spoke to them to find out how they work and what would typically be on offer so I have tried this morning but its an answerphone so I am going to keep trying.

He got very cross when I suggested time out from uni - his course is everything to him and this term they are covering all his favourite authors. I realise that a degree is not therapy but whilst he is happy to be there (as long as he can fade into the background) I don't think change would be very helpful.

All I can do therefore is find out as much as I can about what is out there for him but at the end of the day, even if I do manage to get him through the door to explain his difficulties, the uni will need him to vocalise something and all the time he won't, there is nothing more I can do.

PenelopePipPop Wed 29-Jan-14 12:21:31

They don't need him to say things. He can e-mail disability support if meeting face-to-face is too much. Just as he e-mailed his tutor.

But the needs of people with anxiety are subtle and diverse so we would not make any assumptions about what support would be appropriate without some contact with him. He isn't in a paradox he's in a double bind - if he were well enough to ask for support he probably wouldn't need it. He isn't reading Joseph Heller this term is he!?

So you are trying to break the double bind. He is able to talk to his GP. And he is able to talk to you. So all is not lost. You need someone inside the institution whom he can also talk to who can appreciate the scale of the situation and identify what supports can be put in place to help him. And as everyone said, the university will do a lot once they know what they are dealing with.

So the questions are a) how do you find that person and b) how do you convince your son to talk to that person.

It may take several goes, disability support services may be pro-active once you get through and be willing to approach your son after hearing from you. If they have a good mental health specialist person (we have 2 MH specialists) then this could be a plan.

The personal tutor is an unknown variable but you should keep pushing at that door - as others have said we don't get trained in this. MH happens to be part of my academic field so I tend to follow my students with interest, though I always refer them on to the appropriate specialists. Only disability support and/or the director of undergrad studies can coordinate the adjustments a seriously ill student needs. Has the personal tutor replied to the e-mail your son sent him/her last week yet?

The departmental secretary/most senior admin person responsible for the undergrad programme he is on could also be approached too.

If none of these people are responding helpfully I'd honestly try the Head of Dept just to get things moving. Explain that your son is suffering from severe anxiety, under the care of a GP and you are very worried about his mental state. You appreciate they cannot disclose personal info to you, but you do want to know if disability support services or the dept can make efforts to reach out to him and ensure that he is getting any support/reassurance he needs because he is acutely vulnerable right now.

I know if our HoS got an e-mail like that he'd be straight on it. We do have a duty of care to our students (and also we tend to like them and want them to be happy).

Letters from GP explaining the seriousness of the situation are helpful, but not essential. Any or all of these people should believe you and try to help. The real issue is not whether they should help but whether they can help, because to do that they have to be able to build up a relationship of trust with your son, which right now will be hard.

I do sympathise. It must be so painful trying to support him at arms-length like this. I hope that when the anxiety starts to calm down slightly and he feels less fragile he'll be able to see how worthy he is of help and support.

SlowlorisIncognito Wed 29-Jan-14 13:28:15

All I can suggest is to keep trying with disability support. They may be quite busy, but hopefully you will get through to someone in the end. If he is unable to speak to them face to face, could he attempt to communicate by email- even just giving them permission to discuss his circumstances with you would probably be helpful. I understand this might be too much for him right now though. Perhaps if he built up a relationship with someone via email, then he might be able to talk to them face to face later?

If he wants to stay at university, then that is fair enough. This may be an option that they offer- but if it's not something he wants, he doesn't have to take it. However, I do think that sadly some students reach a point where they are not well enough to cope with university, even if they desperately want to stay. This does not have to mean dropping out, and there will be options available to him.

However, if he does want to stay, does he have exams in the summer? I am aware this seems a long way off, but if he has any special requirements for sitting the exams then these usually need to be sorted out sooner rather than later.

I really hope you manage to get something sorted, and he is able to get some of the support he needs as soon as possible.

creamteas Wed 29-Jan-14 14:17:28

If you left a message the disability unit will hopefully get back to you fairly promptly. If your DS emails them and gives permission, they would be able to meet with you without him if necessary. Not ideal but would be a start.

If you don't hear from them promptly, there is probably an overall Student Support Manager that you could contact.

The system varies from university to university, so where I work, emails to the Head of School would just get bumped onto student support, so that would not make a lot of difference.

sisyphusisalive Wed 29-Jan-14 15:56:10

Today he is much brighter - (he met dh for lunch) Seems much more open re communicating with the disability dept if its all via email so I need to capitalise on his willingness in case he changes his mind again.

Their answerphone however has been on all day. The website says there is a vacancy for senior disability adviser (mental health) but I assume there are other people who would deal with MH issues. There is a contact us form which I have filled out but won't send until ds approves the content.

Yes he has exams in the summer 9 in all I think he said, does that sound right? 3 for 3 modules and one module has no exam ??? He's going to rewrite his 2:2 essay, its the module with no exam. I'm not sure if he is allowed to resubmit but I think it is more about proving to himself that he can do it. According to unistats the course is 38/62 split on exams/coursework for the first year so that may work in his favour as there is less pressure.

Not doing Catch 22 PenelopePipPop I don't know the names of any of the staff and would be reluctant to email a name off the departmental website who may not have a clue who ds is. I think I might be able to get somewhere with the disability unit people though so I'm feeling a lot more hopeful today.

Thanks for all the time you have all taken to post replies - it really is appreciated

sisyphusisalive Wed 29-Jan-14 16:27:11

ds approved the email and it has gone off. Automatic reply bounced back immediately to say the unit is short staffed, the email might not get a response until the end of January. The suggested alternative is to call in at the office. No telephone option - will keep trying the answerphone. Sods law, but thank God its nearly February. Feel like the first hurdle has been jumped.

creamteas Wed 29-Jan-14 17:56:28

Sorry you are not getting a more immediate response and hope they get back to you soon.

BTW the unistats website is only accurate if there are no options to choose for as the numbers are based on a typical pathway which can vary enormously.

SlowlorisIncognito Wed 29-Jan-14 18:56:28

I hope they get back to you soon. It seems like their disability department is currently struggling a bit, which is not good. If they don't get back to you soon there might be someone within the students union who could help a bit, maybe? Mine has a VP for welfare who would try and help if the disability department were being useless.

Unfortunately it is unlikely he will be allowed to resubmit any coursework unless it is agreed due to extenuating circumstances (and even then it would not usually be the same piece of cw).

WRT exams that number sounds possible. With exams it is more that arrangements like not being able to cope with being in an unfamiliar room with lots of other students (many of whom may be from other courses) and invigilators who he won't know. Some people with anxiety find this very triggering, and are allowed to take their exams in seperate rooms elsewhere in the university. However, this does need to be organised well in advance if at all possible. If it's not something your ds would have a problem with, then hopefully you don't need to worry about these just yet.

UptheChimney Wed 29-Jan-14 19:17:44

Some universities also have specialised autism/neuro-atypical support. There can be procedures in place around exams, anxiety, dealing with melt downs, time out, silence etc.

Shootingatpigeons Fri 31-Jan-14 12:54:51

Slow the starting point for DD getting support was the GP writing to the Tutor. She put in place the process for extenuating circumstances to be taken into account and then for a year out to give her the time and space to recover, and DD followed her suggestion to switch to two different modules which she attended uni part time to study in the final term (one of her issues was with two particular courses that she had allowed to over face her when she was feeling vulnerable, and she had not been able to catch up and gain the understanding, she is a Scientist) . They also referred her to a Counsellor for treatment. We only involved the disability people in the context of getting her some better equipment for taking notes in lectures, she is dyslexic, before she went back. She is now doing very well, as I mentioned before.

It was the universities GP practise and it was their Counsellors she was referred to, but I see no reason why the same would not have happened if it had been our GP.

Can you circumvent this non functioning unit?

And please take all the advice, supporting and acting on behalf of a DC with mental illness is not helicopter parenting and no one will think it is. It is right to leave them to fight their own battles but not when they are ill. If he had a serious physical illness you wouldn't think twice. Whilst they may not be able to reply without his permission I am sure his tutor would be grateful for the information they need to make sure he gets the right support.

sisyphusisalive Wed 05-Feb-14 14:20:54

I had a response from the disability unit and they can support him via email though they said they would need to see him at some point and asked for his mbl number so they could contact him rather than the other way around. He has also had an email back from his tutor though I don't know what she told him but it can only be positive.

He did also say he got an email from someone asking him to fill in some forms so I assume that was the disability unit and he must have given them his name which is a step forward. Filling in the forms himself though he thinks is too much for him at the moment so I told him I would do it with him. At least things are moving in the right direction. The ad medication doesn't seem to be kicking in so that will be the next thing to tackle.

creamteas Wed 05-Feb-14 16:32:30

It sounds like things are moving forward, hope it all goes well

PenelopePipPop Wed 05-Feb-14 19:09:01

It is a relief the Uni are aware and you are seeing to some action Sisyphus. I hope the medication starts to help soon.

sisyphusisalive Mon 24-Feb-14 18:18:07

Not sure if any of you are still out there but have another question. ds has refused to go to pick up his essay for one of his modules. After getting the 2:2 in one of the other modules he seems to think he is crap at english. The feedback he is waiting for is for one of his favourite authors and so he is worried if he can't get it right on that one, he won't ever pass anything.

I don't know how these things work but would there be any negative repercussions if he left the feedback unfed?

PenelopePipPop Mon 24-Feb-14 18:46:20

This is an amazingly common thing for students to do - loads of research has been done into it because students complain we don't give them enough written feedback on their work but studies have shown that depending on course 10-33% of all written feedback goes uncollected.

I have never heard of a sanction being applied for not collecting feedback. Your son should have a course handbook which clearly specifies any sanctions which would be applied for academic offences like plagiarism etc and I'd be amazed if this was in it - punishing people for being anxious would be a bit counterproductive!

(Usual caveats it would be best if he could get the feedback even if he didn't feel like reading it now etc but you know all that.)

MariscallRoad Wed 26-Feb-14 01:30:05

Sisy my son has a number of disabilities . He has great anxiety too. This is common. He is kept awake from worry. he missed classes sometimes and projects but this due to extreme fatigue and his condition. He has a mentor in addition to a tutor and such should be provided by the services at the uni. Not all student supports work at the same rate. Not all unis are the same.

You can tick the box any time. It does not matter he is over 18. he needs you. A mentor is very good service to have. Surely he is entitled to dsa which is some help.

I have found very many differences in competence between people who assess disabilities of students.

Now, since the EA 2010 universities are obligated to make reasonable adjustments for students with special needs. This means unis - after the student has disclosed his needs - must anticipate and make those adjustments. This I know from my son’s uni policies. Alternative your son needs to contact his student support service and request help. My son tells me some students have alternative arrangements to exams
It might be a good idea if you speak to the student services yourself because they will know how to help students.

UptheChimney Wed 26-Feb-14 07:12:02

I don't know how these things work but would there be any negative repercussions if he left the feedback unfed?

Short answer: no.

Longer answer: like PenelopePipPop, I find it extraordinarily frustrating that the lengthy time taken to write constructive & helpful feedback goes to waste.

Students fixate on the number/mark/grade, which is frankly the least useful thing, and which I don't actually count as "feedback" -- it is simply the number.

And as someone said on this thread ages ago, sometimes we do less well when discussing "favourite" books or authors. I really dislike the fiction of D. H. Lawrence but if I have to teach his work, I give brilliant classes. I find other far more congenial authors harder to teach because I don't have such easy access to an analytical point of view. Studying/professing literature isn't about "Oh I love this book." That's for book groups ...

When we give essays back at my place, students have to sign up for a 10-15 minute one to one tutorial to discuss feedback -- he could ask for that via email maybe? His tutor is unlikely to want to mention the mark, but will want to go over ways he can improve his writing.

But honestly -- I really wonder if he's ready to cope with university. It gets much tougher ion second year -- NT students find that, so for someone who's NAT, it's likely to be really tough, until he has support in place and has started to learn (be coached?) in coping strategies.

MariscallRoad Wed 26-Feb-14 08:51:39

I agree with Shoot when the DC has a condition parent needs to help. I do the same. There is no substitute for a parent. Several other conditions can also produce panic attacks. I have given up a lot of my time to help ds.

I have seen several feedbacks on academic work of students before their diagnosis of a med problem and afterwards. For a feedback to be of benefit l feel it depends on whether the student has disclosed his problem and the tutor knows the difficulties. I had taught in US Unis. Students informed me of their problems so I had to take this into account in my feedback.

I understand the concerns of your son. Some unis in UK - i experienced this - have a policy 'fit to sit’ but can take account of undisclosed extenuating circumstances even after the exams.

UptheChimney Wed 26-Feb-14 09:04:19

The real crux of the OP's issue is that eventually her DS will need to disclose to the University, and probably have a face to face discussion with the student disability support people. Until he can do that (with or without the OP's support), academic staff and administrative support staff really cannot do anything officially. And while academic staff can be sympathetic, it would be inappropriate to act on our own judgement of the case.

I've recently seen a personal tutee of mine for a progress supervision. I first saw him almost a year ago, when I suggested that he may have a specific learning disability, and that he needed to go & get himself tested. He did, and yes, I was right. I could have been wrong, however. And until it's all signed & sealed with an official indication of how we now assess this student's work, we can't change anything.

So my recent conversation with this student was explaining the mitigation process, in which students can make a retrospective claim for adjustment, particularly if results are on a borderline number, that is, between class marks (eg 59%).

So OP, your DS may still be able to have learning or other disabilities taken into account for past work. But -- and you know this, it must be so frustrating -- he needs to disclose & submit expert ed. psych. and other specialists' diagnoses.

sisyphusisalive Wed 26-Feb-14 12:18:09

Thanks for the replies. Ds has officially registered with the disability support unit now (albeit by email) and they want to see him face to face before March 20th as that seems to be a deadline relating to exams.

His ad medication is having no effect and he has stopped taking it. I have told him that is very unwise and potentially dangerous so I am going to his next GP appt with him as he has said he sometimes can't articulate to her how he is feeling and I don't trust him to tell her he's stopped the tablets. I will ask her to write to the uni if she hasn't already done so. The uni sent him the forms for dsa but he is reluctant to fill them in as it involves seeing someone face to face. Not sure why he would be entitled to any extra money though, his prescriptions are free as he's living off a full student loan. In the meantime he is on the waiting list for CBT at Guys.

I think it has come to the point where I just have to take the reigns, make the appointment with the disability unit on his behalf (if they let me) and take him there myself although I risk going all the way to London to sit in front of someone with a ds who remains mute. My only hope is to have prepped them first. In the back of my mind too though is the thought that it sends him into meltdown and he ends up gnawing his arm again.

Re the feedback - what upthechimney said about DH Lawrence makes a lot of sense and I will pass that on to ds. He is quite buoyant at the moment so I am going to seize on that positivity and draft an email for him to send to the tutor asking for a feedback tutorial appointment and explaining why he has not collected his work since before Christmas.

Can anyone tell me what a learning mentor's role is? I need to have an idea of what type of support he should be asking for at the meeting.

MariscallRoad Wed 26-Feb-14 14:41:30

son sees mentor once a week. he is important for many functions and helps son organise many things. They are trained and great support. Grateful they are in place. Encourage son to apply to get a mentor asap. smile

Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now