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I wish I'd told my son he could start again after dropping out

I wish I'd told my son he could start again after dropping out

When Zoe's son left home and went to university his behaviour changed - he became uncommunicative and dropped out after his first year. Here Zoe talks about what happened and the conversation she wishes she'd had with him.He was a very carefree, happy-go-lucky child, easy-going, a little bit mischievous, but nothing out of the ordinary. I wouldn't have said he was particularly academic but bright enough to carry things off. So he did well enough in his GCSEs, went on to do A-levels, and did well enough to get into university - admittedly through clearing - but he did get into university. We took him up for Freshers' Week. He seemed to immediately get in with a nice group of friends. They all bought their tickets for the Freshers' Week entertainments and we left him in a hall of residence looking perfectly happy. The first weekend he was away we did get in touch with him and he seemed quite chirpy. After that it was more or less total silence.
Part of the joy of going to university is getting away from your parents and finding your feet and being yourself, so we weren't unduly worried at that stage. We thought, "We need to give him space just to be himself," I suppose. He didn't call us and he didn't answer our calls or emails. We were trying to phone him - in the end phoning almost every night, possibly a bit too much - and never getting anything back.
I wish I'd told my son he could start again after dropping out

We didn't really hear anything at all until it was time for him to come home for Christmas and he wanted a lift home.By the second term of his first year we thought, "This is really a bit strange." We got my husband's brother to visit him because he lived close to the university. He seemed to think things were okay. iPM on BBC Radio 4And find out how universities are trying to support their students betterAfter he'd come home at the end of his first year the weeks went by and he didn't - apparently - hear about his exam results. So when nothing came through the post I called the university and was basically met with a blank wall. Their line was that at the age of 18 he's an adult, he is entitled to privacy, and we weren't entitled to know anything.So eventually, after I called once or twice, they did tell me that he'd done enough to get through to the second year. But when I told my son it then came out that he hadn't actually sat his exams, so he hadn't got through to the second year - that was just a mistake. Our fear was that he would just disappear from our lives by moving away and not contacting us, but I didn't have any suspicion that he was depressed or was in any trouble. We didn't have any hold on him and we were just so very, very sensitive about what we said to him - possibly too much now I look back on it.Initially he wanted to go back and change course and do something different, but in the end he decided he wasn't going to. We went through lots of options with him and he seemed quite keen on the fire service, but it's very competitive to get into and you have to be really fit. He wasn't unfit but he wasn't super fit, so we bought him trainers and my husband went running with him locally, we encouraged him as much as we could.
I wish I'd told my son he could start again after dropping out

Eventually he said he went for an interview - we're not actually sure whether he did or not - but he didn't get in. That was such a shame because I think that was the one thing that kind of lit a spark with him, that he would have liked to have done. After that he went back to his university town because he and his friends had organised a house together, which we were fine with, and he did actually get a clerical job which probably wasn't going anywhere but it was something.At the end of the academic year, he quit his job and came home. We're not sure what sparked that - he still seemed to be in contact with his friends, he had a girlfriend too who was in that town. He did tell his colleagues that he was going travelling which wasn't true, but that was what he told them to explain why he was leaving. He came home, had a week's holiday in Tenerife with his girlfriend, and then we were home for four or five weeks together with my younger son.
I wish I'd told my son he could start again after dropping out

Things seemed to be going reasonably well - he told us he had got in touch with a number of job agencies. I didn't want to rock the boat - and I'm going to regret that forever - because I think now he had got himself into a state where he couldn't see a way out, he couldn't see a way forward.Although he still had friends and he still had our support, I think he needed to know that he could start afresh, and I regret now not saying that that was the case. You can start again, particularly when you're only 20. We decided to go on holiday. I remember driving out of our village towards the ferry port and both of us saying we thought he'd turned a corner. He appeared to be going out to work every day, he seemed relatively happy, he was quite communicative at home. When I came home from work he would say, "What sort of a day have you had?" So we were quite relieved and felt happy enough leaving him. It was only a week's holiday.
I wish I'd told my son he could start again after dropping out

We came back on the Sunday. I'd sent him a text the previous day just to confirm when we were coming back. When we got home the first thing I noticed was that the car was missing. He hadn't passed his driving test but he was learning to drive, so I was immediately worried that he'd taken the car and driven it without being licensed to do so. Then when we got into the house there was a message, a handwritten message, saying, "Please could you call the police station."
I wish I'd told my son he could start again after dropping out

So I did that and I obviously asked what it was about. They said they didn't want to tell me over the phone, that they would be sending somebody around. So of course I was concerned, but my immediate reaction was to go around the house tidying up and unpacking and just keeping myself busy really, just to stop thinking about what it might be. My worst thought was that he had driven the car and he'd had an accident, maybe he'd hurt somebody else or something. So I was already quite worried. About half an hour later two policemen came to the door and I let them in. They said that while we were away our son had taken his life. I heard this almighty, animalistic cry from behind me, my husband. It just seemed so unbelievable. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter.
Depression
University
Mental health
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