Life can be difficult for a youth / young adult. It is a time of many changes for this group. Developing relationships, creating an identity, establishing values, moving from secondary to post-seconadry schools or a vocation, becoming independent – all part of this time of transition. And it is a difficult time. It is an even more difficult time when the person is dealing with a mental health issue. At the age of 18 in many health jurisdictions, youth move into the adult mental health system and leave the supports, the relationships, and the programs behind. This is also the time that many youth finish secondary school and move to post-secondary studies, often away from home. Having access to systems that continue to support this young adult, a continuity of care, or systems that ensure there are no cracks is crucial. But this is often not the case, especially in most post-secindary institutions where there support is minimal, connection with community groups can be minimal, and wait times are long to just “talk” to someone, all while the schools make it known that they are not in the business of mental health. BUT what does this mean when they make this as part of their marketing, when they sell it as a feature of the school and it turns out not to be there? What it means is that post-secondary institutions have some work to do to become integrated within the community resources to ensure that students on the campus have the supports necessary to ensure success. When this is an age of greatest vulnerability, saying “It’s not my job” is not an answer when we think about not what but who is at risk – the student.
The following BLOG post came from Riding The Blue Wave http://ridethebluewave.blogspot.ca/2015/11/when-supports-arent-there-now-what.html
This year we watched as our youngest headed out the door to university. It was not an easy choice for her, not the leaving home part but about where to go. Her interests are varied and her program interests ranged from arts to business to science. Every program to which she applied she was accepted. But for her, large universities were not an option. She finds cities overwhelming and draining. Heading out of the city and into the country adds colour to her face and spark back in her step. And so it was no surprise that she decided in the end to opt for one of the smaller universities. We were delighted with her choice as we knew it was a much better fit for her. We knew her anxieties would rage in a larger setting. We toured the University in the spring and met with staff – all of which provided greater affirmation. They talked to us about being family, caring for students, helping to address issues before they become too much of a problem, the supports that are available, etc. And we drank it all in and left there with her thinking, “Yes, this is where I want to go” even though she would not know anyone.
And here we are, two months into the new school year and I wonder where the actions are to the words that were spoken last spring and whether it was all part of the marketing tool. I have watched as our youngest becomes sadder and more anxious as she struggles to keep up without the education supports that she needs; I hear her frustration as she talks about services of scribes that were not set up for her until AFTER Thanksgiving, even though they were asked for when she first arrived; I hear her anxiety as she talks about having to contact Student Services to arrange the space to write tests and days passing without a response to the email (the only way to contact them on such matters) allowing the anxiety to increase; I hear the angst as she talks about whether she can manage the next 4 years despite loving the school, the program, her residence and new friends; I hear about the lack of listening by Student Services to what the student is trying to say in explaining what the challenges are and what has worked or not in the past; and I see the lack of understanding in the emails or conversations that are had with Student Services and in the failure to ask the student and listen to what they say.
“We don’t deal with student supports until classes start.”
“If you think it is stressful now, just wait until mid-terms”.
“You seemed stressed (after the exasperation of setting up learning accommodations). you should see our counsellors”
“You can’t just drop in here last minute and expect me to do something, you were told what was needed” (mid-terms and exams were discussed, not tests)
“I don’t respond on weekends, you have to send these requests on Monday” (Response by Student Services to student email sent on Monday for Thursday test; email not responded to until Thursday)
“I don’t know what this entails. you will have to go and ask Student Services”(Prof, when student inquired about test-taking and accommodations as Student Services did not explain test taking only mid-term and exams.)
“You are being skeptical, you need to be more open-minded to new things” (Counsellor to student when student tried to explain sound increases anxiety further and therefore music therapy may not be a good option.)
For the thousands of students that have been connected with Student Services over the years, it is astonishing to learn this renowned university has no handbook or online guide or no individual plan that each student is given so as to know where to go and when, other than to email and ask. It is equally astonishing the responses that come back when questions are asked of the tone and terseness of someone who is burnt out or not suited to the position.
The flag of privacy gets raised more often than the flag of compassion and understanding. Had the student had a physical illness would the situation be the same? Is the invisible illness also making the student invisible? Do the parties involved truly understand what emotional fortitude is required just to make it to class, let alone advocate? Is there not an opportunity to have a more team approach to ensuring student success?
As parent, it is hard to sit back and watch, especially from afar. You can make suggestions, help provide direction, give reassuring words, but in the end it is the student’s choice (and rightfully so) of how things need to be handled. All you can do is hope that they have the skills to manage and that you have prepared them as best as you can. And here is where reality hits – no matter how well you have prepared them, no matter what skills they have, when mental health issues arise, often asking for help, advocating for themselves can be one of the last things they can do. When they are most vulnerable and need care and understanding or the voice of a person who can advocate on their behalf, that often seems to be what does not happen.
Parents are not suppose to be involved at the university level, and in fairness, nor do the students want that either. And I get that and agree with it. Having Mom or Dad step in to help never looks good. But what happens when the student can’t advocate? What happens when anxiety levels are so elevated that the thought of trying to explain what the issues are, what will help. and to have someone listen to them is beyond what the student is capable of? What happens when days pass and the pages remain blank for the assignment or the words are read but not retained because of anxiety, which has led to sadness increasing and near debilitation of the ability to learn? Why isn’t there a way for a caring adult to be part of the conversation when needed, (including siblings or friends, not just parents) to raise a flag, make a suggestion? After all, who often knows the student better at times than their families and friends?
I had hoped the smaller school would be different. I had hoped it would truly be the family we were told it was back in May. I just didn’t know how dysfunctional a family it would be or maybe it was all just marketing.