Son says he is deferring at uni

(16 Posts)
handbag2015 Sun 10-May-15 17:32:07

My son is at the end of the 4th year out of a 5 year degree/masters course and he just has not been going in to any classes for the past year (its a science course). He is awake at night and just cannot get up in the day. He has been ignoring all contact from the uni to sort this out. He finally went to see his tutor who advised him to go the doctor's, which he went to the uni health service and got diagnosed with depression and given anti depressants. He says they've helped, but it hasn't changed his sleeping habits or going into uni. The long and short of it is, he wants to defer for this past year, but needs a certificate from the health centre to confirm his diagnosis, but he cannot get himself motivated to even do that. Where is that going to leave him financially if he does not defer properly, will he get his loan in September? If he does not do this properly and has no money, I will become liable for his rent for the next year which he has just signed up to (I've always been his guarantor). I cannot afford this. I'm so worried about him and scared he might do something stupid. He seems to be having a great time at the moment partying most of the time now he's decided to defer, so I cannot have a sensible conversation with him. Any telephone conversation I end up nagging him to get the doctor's note, or to get himself sorted out. He is now 24 years old, could I get hold of his tutor and talk it through with him or not? I just don't know what to do. Please, any advice would be appreciated.

lionheart Sun 10-May-15 18:23:49

handbag, officially the university won't be able to talk to you about this but in your shoes I would drop an email to his tutor or call or email their student support services. At least then they will know he has not got the paperwork done and can do some chasing of their own.

He needs to do this properly but not just because of the funding. There will be all kinds of regulations about deferral and he will need to follow them.

Sorry he has been having such a hard time.

handbag2015 Sun 10-May-15 20:33:53

Thanks lionheart, an email is a really good idea. That way I can hopefully give them the heads up on the situation and help resolve it. He's done 4 years so far, it would be so sad if he left now especially if it is just because of him not getting organised. How can you motivate someone to work when they just don't want to. Looking back he always struggled with getting work done at school. If he did leave, there is no way he would be able to hold down a job. He has also neglected his health and needs to see a dentist and a GP regarding some health problems. He might be 24, but I'm finding the worry is getting more serious as we get older, rather than less.

lionheart Mon 11-May-15 08:01:45

handbag, you can also do a quick google online and should be able to find out about the university rules regarding interruption etc so you will know what is expected of him in terms of the paperwork and what leeway is given.

You should be able to find out what student support is given as well.

It is not unusual for students to interrupt and come back to it after a year away--a degree can be a long slog.

Does the five years include the MA?

Increasingly, universities build different exit points into their degrees for students who do not complete (diplomas etc). It might be worth finding this out and finding out exactly how close he is to completing.

24 or not he's still your boy ...

chemenger Mon 11-May-15 09:21:45

I am guessing that your ds is in the fourth year of a Scottish integrated masters, if not then what I ave to say may not be relevant. I am also extrapolating that other universities work in more or less the same way as mine.

Since he is in an honours year (fourth and fifth year are honours, third is junior honours) the hurdles involved in retaking a year are substantial, it is extremely unusual to be permitted to repeat an honours year, it requires permission from the Senatus (one of the most senior committees in the university) and they require absolutely convincing evidence that the repeat year is required. The later in the year that the request is made the less likely it is to be granted. So the letter from the doctor needs to state that he has been and is still unable carry out any academic work. In my experience many doctors are not explicit enough in their letters to provide good evidence. A diagnosis of depression without elaboration about how it has prevented him from attending and participating will quite possibly not be enough, there are many students who have a diagnosis of depression who are successfully functioning at university. He needs strong evidence in support of his being unable to do the same.

There are other issues -

- Has any of the year's assessment been completed? In our fourth year several courses are examined at the end of the first semester. A student temporarily withdrawing now would keep the results of those assessments, irrespective of what they are. We do not apply special consideration retrospectively, so it may be, unfortunately, that the situation is already very difficult to retrieve.
- It is possible for you to speak to his tutor if ds gives permission, I have often spoken with parents after getting explicit permission to do so, and in cases like this it can help greatly if the parent has all the facts rather than just the student's interpretation of the facts.
-Setting aside the deferring (by which I have assumed you mean repeating) he needs to submit his medical evidence in order to get special consideration for the upcoming (or possibly ongoing, depending where he is) set of exams. It is quite possible that with strong medical evidence he could be allowed a resit in these, which could be set for next June rather than late summer, in which case he would take a year out (not attending classes) to study for these. I think this is the best outcome you can hope for. I'm not sure about the funding situation.

Hope this helps, I'm happy to advise further if appropriate.

UptheChimney Mon 11-May-15 09:57:29

I'm normally one to say to parents: Butt out.

However, in this case, you need to act on his behalf. He's clearly quite ill, and probably also feeling a mixture of shame, embarassment, anger and helplessness in the face of what he sees as failure. Sounds like he's got his head in the sand and hoping it will all magically go away. It won't and you both need to take swift action.

The behaviours you describe are textbook symptoms of a bout of quite sever depression. ADs will help, but he also needs to make lifestyle changes: some vigorous exercise everyday, sleep hygiene, and eating a sustaining mix of protein and vegetables. I also suggest to students in this situation that if they are musicians, or paint or draw, or have some sort of creative hobby or sport, which takes them 'out of themselves' they should try to revive that interest.

These simple things are recommended by our student counselling service as necessary self-help, alongside medical and/or counselling intervention. A big emphasis on gradually introducing self-care and resilience, and managing one's illness. It's tough, but I've een it work with my students over the years.

The university, and his individual tutors, can talk to you if your DS makes it clear that you have his permission. Probably an email, or written note from him, to his Personal Tutor and Course Director. Then you can go from there.

I think you should explore the possibility of him taking a year's leave of absence (intercalation or interruption some places call it), for him to get better. If he had a cancer, that's what we'd advise. An intense experience of a mental health problem is just the same.

I can't really advise on the funding aspect. BUt you do need to stop the clock, as it were, and in this situation, the university will work with you, I would hope.

We don't like to see students fail: for their own sakes and also it's such a waste of precious resource of time & energy by both student & staff. It's a huge investment by everyone (and no, the £9k doesn't cover what it really costs). So decent universities and staff within them will really work hard to assist & support.

The difficult bit is getting him into action. Good luck to you both!

lionheart Mon 11-May-15 11:35:41

Yes, forgot to say they can talk to you if they have permission from your son.

If he is unwilling to get the ball rolling in this way it might be more useful to phone them than to email.

abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz1234 Mon 11-May-15 15:13:33

Is he a long way away from you? Would it help if you meet up with him?
I'm glad other posters have supported the idea that it may be helpful for you to get involved. Obviously your son is an adult but it sounds like some extra support would be useful.

What about calling up the universities student support services for general advice. You don't need to ask about your son directly but it would be useful to hear what his options are from an official source rather than from your DS. My DS had some MH issues as a result of a sleep problem and his student support services and his course tutors were excellent. It helped that my DS recognised he was having problems and proactively tried to sort them out himself. I didn't get involved at all but would have done if my DS couldn't handle it on his own. He still suffers with his sleep but it's nowhere as bad as it was.

Are his flatmates supportive?

If you have just signed up as guarantor can you find out if you can cancel the contract directly? If he does defer then he needs to be asking around for someone to take over his contract ASAP.
How has his grades been? Do you think his depression is a direct result of stress? Due you think he might be taking drugs - marajana (can't spell that word!) has a lot to answer for in young males confused.

I real feel for you. He may be an adult but it sounds like he badly needs some parenting. You must continually switch between wanting to be mad with him and wanting to give him a big hug.

Good luck.

UptheChimney Mon 11-May-15 16:31:52

I'd wondered about drugs as well. Sadly, it's something I would ask about if a student of mine was behaving in the way you describe.

Partying, alcohol and other intoxicants abuse: these can be signs of self-medication against mental ill-health. Completely destructive, of course ...

My university runs peer support groups for students with substance abuse problems -- a sort of student version of AA or NA. Might be worth finding out if there are such groups at your son's university?

handbag2015 Mon 11-May-15 19:13:56

Wow, I'm completely overwhelmed by your responses and care. Thank you so much.

My son is at an English university; his 1st year was a foundation year, 2nd year as normal, 3rd year as normal, 4th year he converted to a Masters (without doing a Batchelors) and 5th year would've been the final Masters year. I wish in a way he had just stuck with the Batchelors as he would've almost finished now.

I found the university health service quite poor for him to be honest. In order to be seen by a GP, he has to get there before 9am, which of course is nigh on impossible as he just doesn't wake up. They said he needs counselling, but there is none available as the waiting list is too long. I tried to help him to get his own GP at a surgery, so he can make appointments for the afternoon and there might be more chance of counselling, but he needs the university doctor to produce the right certificate to defer so he can't change yet. I'm glad that he agrees he needs counselling. His thought processes at the moment are extremely negative, not my usual happy boy, which is so upsetting. Thank you for not telling me to butt out, like you say, he is my little boy and I want the best for him or for him to be ok at the very least. His grades started off in the foundation year around 90%, he is very bright, but they have gone steadily downhill since then. He hardly attended anything this year, but managed to cram for his exams, and just about passed them.

He has lost touch with his uni friends as a lot of them have now left. He seems to be hanging out with unemployed people who drink and smoke all night. He says that these friends are his real family now as they don't judge him. Its so sad, we have always been so close. He does play the keyboard, and I know that does help him. Regarding his flat, the contract has been signed and he starts that in July. I don't want to cancel his flat if he does manage to defer and restart in September.

I think I will phone his tutor tomorrow and also student support services and see what they can do to help. He lives a couple of hours away, and I do visit him every month, that's if he actually answers his phone or remembers he is meant to be meeting me. I might meet him in the week and help him access his tutor and health services.

Thanks everyone again. I'll keep you posted to let you know how things pan out.

lionheart Mon 11-May-15 19:22:47

flowers handbag

SeaMedows Wed 13-May-15 13:08:04

Could you drive over to his city and take him to the GP? A family member did this for me and it made all the difference to having a successful outcome (or at least, a more successful outcome ;-) ).

How concerned are you as to his physical well-being? I know you say you're concerned he might do something stupid. Have you spoken to him about whether he has thought about suicide, whether he is behaving in a risky manner, whether he's thought that it would be a good thing if he died, and whether he has made any active plans for suicide? If so, then his welface should be escalated by the GP and the University counselling service.

I know from my own experience that if things are a serious problem (by which I mean suicide a distinct possibility) then the GP and the University can start to pull things out of the hat that weren't previously being made available. If he indicates that he has active plans for suicide, then I believe that you need to get onto the GP and the counselling service straight away and tell them explicitly that this is the case and say that he needs an emergency appt with the Mental Health team. The counselling service should also have Crisis Action Plans that they can go through with him, so that he can work out what to do should he be having active suicidal impulses.

It absolutely is possible for him to get better, and it's very likely that he will, but he may well need quite a lot of help to get there.

2rebecca Wed 13-May-15 22:26:13

Awake all night partying a lot and hanging out with unemployed people who smoke and drink would make me worry about drugs. Even milder illegal drugs like cannabis can make you lethargic and unmotivated if used a lot. Alcohol would muck up his sleep pattern and make him depressed and stop antidepressants working. I'd be trying to get him home and away from his crowd and sorted out. Nhs counselling and psychology is scarce

handbag2015 Thu 14-May-15 07:47:29

Thanks for your replies. I am very worried about him. I tried phoning some student services but they say he needs to make any appointments himself. I've got a relative visiting him today who will hopefully get him along to a Dr appointment and I'll try phoning his tutor again as well.

handbag2015 Thu 14-May-15 07:49:14

I'm trying to type this on my phone but it doesn't give u much space. I'm going to see him at the weekend and will hopefully get a clearer picture of his mental state then. Thanks everyone

lionheart Sat 16-May-15 07:36:33

Hope it does become clearer, handbag. If you don't have any luck with the tutor, there should also be a year tutor and beyond that the Head of Department.

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