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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.

secretscwirrels Wed 22-Jan-14 15:22:03

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!

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