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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

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.

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