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University - Personal tutors and mental health watch

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    Hi,

    I've just come from a meeting with my personal tutor. I'm feeling very shaken up, and a bit angry. I want some advice, maybe from people who've been in a similar situation, about whether or not I'm justified in feeling this way.

    I'm a final year university student, so my tutor has know me for some time. During my first years of academic study at uni (and a bit before that) I was dealing with some pretty disabling mental health problems. I got into treatment and things gradually got better, to the point now where I have said goodbye to all my doctors and am on my own.

    While things were particularly bad I filled in a mitigating circumstances form and gave it to my uni, just in case I had to retake the year, or take a year out, or drop-out...(I really didn't know if I could carry on at some points). I also let my personal tutor know about everything that was going on, mainly because he kept asking, as my absences from classes were racking up.

    So, my final year rolls up and I'm feeling much better. During the first meeting I have with my tutor this year I relay to him my improved health. He is kind and let's me know he's pleased for me, which is great. However, what he tells me is that he's pleased that I am "no longer sad" and "happier". He then gives me advice on how he keeps himself "happy", by thinking of everything he has to be grateful for; blue skies, water from a tap...
    And I didn't know what to say. If it's not clear why I was struck dumb, it's because my tutor seems to not have any handle on just what has been wrong with me for the past few years. I wasn't struggling so badly because I was down about the sky being cloudy, I was seriously mentally ill.

    I would shrug this off usually, since it's just ignorance. However, what concerns me is that my personal tutor is likely going to be responsible for writing references for me once I leave university. I don't want his view of me, and his references, to be coloured by the fact that he thinks I spent two years feeling a bit down and that that is all it takes to completely throw me off my studies. I have been fighting hard for these past few years, and I am immensely proud that I managed to do that while at least passing each year at uni.

    What should I do? Should I explain what I think he's missing at our next meeting? Should I just leave it? Am I reading too much into things?

    Thanks for reading this big chunk of text, and for any advice you have.

    Have a good day. x
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    I've been in a really similar situation myself, which I think was a product of ignorance on my personal tutor's part in my final year (who was also my dissertation supervisor). I didn't intervene as much as I could have done and it's still causing me a lot of anxiety today, as a matter of fact.

    When I was in my final year of university I suffered from depression and had to take anti-depressants to help cope with it. This all meant that I found it really hard to cope with everything, such as managing friendships, managing my own time, looking after myself and getting work done, which in particular caused quite a few problems with my final year dissertation. There were instances where I had to keep rescheduling meetings with my supervisor or put off the discussions, because I was really struggling to cope and couldn't manage my time properly. This meant that there were things that took me weeks during my dissertation that my personal tutor probably would have said should only have taken hours. He was consistently despondent and frustrated at my progress, and although I explained to him numerous times about my depression and was very open about it, he still continued to treat me the same way as though I hadn't mentioned it in the first place. He'd get cross at me for forgetting to complete tasks and show signs of disappointment when things weren't done. He was seemingly unable to make the connection that me suffering from depression was severely impacting upon my ability to work, and still would reprimand me and vent his frustration, which made things even worse. I sense he thought that this was just me feeling a bit sad, and that he thought I was just using this (and my diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome) as an excuse.

    The crippling blow came after the Easter holidays for me. I'd agreed to do some task for him and reach a point in the dissertation over the holidays, but unfortunately I was panicked and even more depressed during the holidays which meant I wasn't able to get much done. After meeting after the holidays, my supervisor expressed his disappointment at my lack of progress and had a very long whine about how I've put pressure on him by asking for references, made his job difficult and so forth. At that point I just wanted to cry, and the disappointing thing was I even sent him a long-ish email explaining my situation during the holidays and why I thought applying for an extension would be a good idea, to which he agreed - but I still got the same negative response and he went to the simplistic conclusion that I had just not done the work, without taking on board my reasoning for why. When I left he just said "well that was an experience!" which indicated he had no idea why I was upset. If it wasn't for the fact that he had written me references and was leaving soon after anyway, I probably would have filed a complaint against him for being so ignorant and insensitive, but in the end I didn't say anything (and am deeply regretting it).

    I also had an attempt at a PhD since then (after which I dropped out) and my supervisor then showed a similar level of ignorance.

    TL;DR: So in short, I can sympathise greatly with your situation. I think it would be a good idea to sit down with your personal tutor and explain exactly what depression is and how it has affected you specifically. Make sure he doesn't underestimate your situation and also emphasise that depression can be characterised by a sort of "numbness" to things in life rather than just simply sadness. If necessary it could be worth getting someone from your university's support unit to speak to him if that doesn't get anywhere. If he has a problem with this and it taints his view of you, then that is his problem entirely, and if you create a good impression in specific courses and form a rapport with another lecturer, maybe ask them to write you a reference instead or switch your personal tutor.

    Still though, I cannot comprehend how people with such high levels of education can be so ignorant about mental health issues (and many other personal issues for that matter), despite the fact that mental health problems can affect anyone.
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    Personally I think it sounds like he was just telling you how he looks after his own wellbeing and keeps positive rather than implying you were sad about the colour of the sky. I don't think you need to bring it up unless you really want to. I would just leave it if it were me.

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    I'm sorry you feel your mental health issues were not taken seriously by tutor. I'm actually inclined to agree with Jenx301 but maybe I am being harsh in comparing your situation and what was said to me by tutors at MY uni...

    I don't think he meant any harm by it and it sounds like he was being encouraging and was happy that you are doing better, which is more than most personal tutors come out with, tbh! I don't know if you know much about mindfulness and research done on the five ways to wellbeing but what he was saying is basically that kinda stuff. It's the new fad in mental health treatment and so actually he's not said anything wrong, per se, if one takes that into consideration :nah: Plus it's really hard to sympathise/empathise with severe mental illness full stop, let alone in a way that doesn't cause offence, if one hasn't experienced it first-hand oneself

    In short, I do not think he was minimising what you've been through deliberately, if at all. However, I DO understand your concern about the reference. But there is an easy solution to that: when it comes to applying for stuff, send him a reminder email that he agreed to write you a reference and just slip in there, "to remind you, during X years of my undergrad, I suffered with A, B and C. I would appreciate if you could mention these extenuating circumstances in the reference". That way, it will reinforce how severe it was and remind him of this! :yes:
    • #1
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    Thanks for taking the time to reply everyone.

    In particular, it was good to hear your story omegaSQU4ARED, and I'm sorry you've had such a hard time with mental health and people's reactions to it at uni. I understand what it's like to receive little to no support from your university.

    I've had some time to mull it over and I've decided that while my personal tutor has been nothing but kind, his remarks definitely indicate that he doesn't understand fully what my mental health problems have been or how they've impacted me. Maybe, like you say The_Lonely_Goatherd, that's unavoidable if he hasn't experienced something similar himself.

    A key misunderstanding, that I thought I'd explained to him, (and I see I should have clarified this in my first post) is that my problems were not limited to depression.

    Also, and I keep thinking I'm being defensive, especially as several of you have disagreed, but I still can't help but see his comments reminding me to appreciate the blue sky etc. as his belief that he could teach me how to be happy by reminding me to look on the bright side. That was a hard blow, I mean, I'm not stupid, I had tried that.

    I have another meeting with my tutor in a few weeks. I've decided to clarify exactly what my mental health problems have been over the past few years, and how they affected me. I'll whittle down what I want to say into a few sentences. I don't want this to be a big therapy session, or to put pressure on myself to be some kind of mental health educator. I just want it over and done with so I can move on without feeling I haven't done enough to secure reasonable references.
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    (Original post by Anonymous)
    I have another meeting with my tutor in a few weeks. I've decided to clarify exactly what my mental health problems have been over the past few years, and how they affected me. I'll whittle down what I want to say into a few sentences. I don't want this to be a big therapy session, or to put pressure on myself to be some kind of mental health educator. I just want it over and done with so I can move on without feeling I haven't done enough to secure reasonable references.
    Sounds like a good idea, if it will give you peace of mind and help to clarify the situation for your tutor. I honestly don't think he meant anything by his comments but we weren't there - you were - so you are better judge of the situation :yes: Good luck!
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    (Original post by Anonymous)
    Thanks for taking the time to reply everyone.

    In particular, it was good to hear your story omegaSQU4ARED, and I'm sorry you've had such a hard time with mental health and people's reactions to it at uni. I understand what it's like to receive little to no support from your university.

    I've had some time to mull it over and I've decided that while my personal tutor has been nothing but kind, his remarks definitely indicate that he doesn't understand fully what my mental health problems have been or how they've impacted me. Maybe, like you say The_Lonely_Goatherd, that's unavoidable if he hasn't experienced something similar himself.

    A key misunderstanding, that I thought I'd explained to him, (and I see I should have clarified this in my first post) is that my problems were not limited to depression.

    Also, and I keep thinking I'm being defensive, especially as several of you have disagreed, but I still can't help but see his comments reminding me to appreciate the blue sky etc. as his belief that he could teach me how to be happy by reminding me to look on the bright side. That was a hard blow, I mean, I'm not stupid, I had tried that.

    I have another meeting with my tutor in a few weeks. I've decided to clarify exactly what my mental health problems have been over the past few years, and how they affected me. I'll whittle down what I want to say into a few sentences. I don't want this to be a big therapy session, or to put pressure on myself to be some kind of mental health educator. I just want it over and done with so I can move on without feeling I haven't done enough to secure reasonable references.
    I would be tempted to agree with TLG. I think your tutor wasn't intentionally minimising your illness, but I can understand how it may come across like that. It seems like he was offering some self help tactics that he uses himself when he feels stressed, and if they work for him that's cool. I've had mental health problems myself and I may offer advice which other people with mental illness would see as dismissive, but at the end of the day it's what helped me. Even what he said regarding being thankful that you have running water is called comparisons in a therapy called DBT which is evidence based and very effective.

    Of course if you feel invalidated that is the most important thing and if you feel talking to him will help, then you should do that. But I just feel that he was trying to help in any way he could. It's like in my life I have dealt with survivors of rape, both personally and professionally. I've never experienced that but I can empathise and use suggest ideas. I will never understand exactly how they feel but I can attempt to help them feel better.


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