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Sibling in a downward spiral and no idea what to do
April 18, 2014 12:48 PM   Subscribe

My brother is a senior in high school, and after a lifetime of excellent academic performance, seems to be having a nervous breakdown.

His class is a month away from graduating, but he might end up not graduating and thus not going to college. The situation started at the beginning of this year, when he found out he was rejected by his early decision school. After that, he began to turn in his homework late, resulting in study hall, and then skipping the study hall, only to get detention. When questioned, he would say that he doesn't see the point of doing homework anymore, so he wasn't going to do it. My parents have talked to his teachers and the principal numerous times, and they have been very generous with extending the due dates for homework. He has been seeing a therapist, but he says it doesn't help him and he still won't be doing his homework.

I'm not sure if he's depressed. I think he is, although he denies it, and then if I question him any further about his emotional state or why he's not doing his homework, he gets very hostile and snappy. He has always been a very intelligent, logical person, although all of his friends are online. I worry about the influence the internet is having on him, as he's shut up in his room all day every day, playing games and surfing the net.

The school is now fast losing their patience with him, and they will probably not let him graduate. Our backup plan is for him to go to community college and then transfer to a 4-year school, but my parents would really rather not do this, because it feels like such a waste.

I feel like maybe he should go on antidepressants, but he might not be willing to, as he insists he's not depressed. He is just super stubborn and no longer seems to care about anything except playing games, whereas before he took great pride in his schoolwork and being at the top of his programming and engineering classes.

I also should add that my parents have not pressured him academically in any way, as he has always maintained good grades on his own. He is also skipping school now, refusing to get out of bed in the mornings.

The three schools we are considering for him now are U of Washington, UC Irvine, and Santa Clara University. He applied to those as a computer engineering major, so if anyone can speak positively about the engineering program in any of those schools, I'd love to hear it. We are ending up having to decide for him, because he says he doesn't care. Of course, he may end up not being to attend in the fall or deferring his acceptance.

Throwaway: downwardspiralmeta@yahoo.com
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (35 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
When he's 18, he may be motivated if your parents start charging him rent in order to keep living under their roof, with or without a high school diploma. He may very well be depressed, but you cannot make someone want to get better. You can motivate them through consequences of their actions or inactions, however.
posted by xingcat at 12:57 PM on April 18 [3 favorites]


SCU is a very supportive environment, I worked there for many years (as staff, not faculty) and was always pleased with how much support undergrads received there, how accessible the faculty are to their students, how organized and networked their alumni are. For my own son, who has some learning issues, I would love to see him to go SCU because I feel comfortable that he would have his needs addressed. I don't have any specific info about their school of engineering other than to note that a) SCU alums stick together and b) it's located in Silicon Valley where who you know and what you can learn is often more important than what you know.

Maybe your brother needs to take a gap year.
posted by jamaro at 12:57 PM on April 18


What stands out most to me is that your brother has almost no agency in his life at this point:

Our backup plan is for him to go to community college...
I feel like maybe he should go on antidepressants...
The three schools we are considering for him now are... (emphasis mine)

Being a teenager sucks, and being a high school senior is especially hard because you're right on the brink of new responsibility, freedom, and perceived "adulthood." He must be feeling crushed to have been rejected from his top choice school, and his refusal to actively make decisions is his way of responding to that pain.

I'm sure you and your parents are 100% well-meaning, but you are hurting more than helping. You cannot and must not try to make these decisions for him. He needs to take responsibility. If that means he flunks out of HS now, that's on him. If he graduates but delays college, that's on him. His choices are his own, not yours - let him own his choices. (Yes, passive inaction is still a choice.)

I know it hurts to watch a loved one flounder. But that is the only way for him to grow up. Encourage him, support him, love him - but don't make his life decisions for him.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 12:59 PM on April 18 [52 favorites]


Yes, he's absolutely depressed. He should get on some meds ASAP, but there remains the question of what to do with the next year. I don't think he's in any position to start college in the fall, whether or not he squeaks through to graduation.

Is a gap year an option for him? Getting him set up with something structured and positive to do with his time would do him a world of good. How about Americorps? A semester-long NOLS course, followed by some volunteering in the spring, would be absolutely perfect for him if your parents can swing it financially. He needs to get well mentally before he can tackle undergrad. Think a little different about how he can use the upcoming year to do just that. He can always reapply to colleges for next year.
posted by killdevil at 12:59 PM on April 18


In my opinion, he should absolutely not be going to a University in the state he's in. He will likely fall through the cracks and have a very negative experience.

I'd suggest that your parents schedule an emergency meeting with him and his therapist. Everyone needs to be on the same page about what's happening with him, how dire the situation is, and what his next steps need to be.

This is a difficult time, and he may be experiencing a lot of psychiatric symptoms - he may also be "medicating" himself. It's really important to find out what the therapist's impressions are before you can know what to do.
posted by jasper411 at 1:02 PM on April 18 [7 favorites]


If he doesn't care about high school, why would he start caring when he gets to college? That sounds like a very expensive lesson for your parents (who I assume will be paying). I totally agree with schroedingersgirl that you are not giving him the agency he needs. You will be setting him up for a lot of suffering if you make choices for him and try to shield him from consequences of his actions.
posted by desjardins at 1:04 PM on April 18 [9 favorites]


We are ending up having to decide for him, because he says he doesn't care.

I don't want to add insult to injury, but this sounds like it could be the reverse (ie, "He doesn't care, because we are deciding things for him.")

Anectdotally, I wanted to take a gap year before college (working full time), but my parents insisted I go. Begrudgingly, I enrolled, moved 4 hours away, and lasted 4 days at the school before bailing in a way that caused far more heartache for my family.

Your parents went to bat for him at the high school level, and it didn't change his mind, so there is no reason to think making more of his decisions is the answer here.

Whatever's going on with him, he doesn't want to discuss it with you, and I realize that's terribly hurtful. But you say he's been seeing a therapist, so please let the therapist make recommendations about meds, life decisions, and so on. Give him some space.

I think the suggestion that your parents let him know he'll be going to college or paying rent is a good one. Otherwise, this is for him to figure out, with a support network available if and when he's ready for one (and that may not be you or your parents.)

I'm sorry. I realize this is difficult for you, but I fear you're making things more difficult for him, and not in a constructive way.
posted by whoiam at 1:20 PM on April 18 [6 favorites]


He should not be going to a four-year college when he's in this state. If he's doing so poorly in high school right now, a four-year college isn't going to magically fix all of his problems. He'll just end up wasting a semester or more.

I know everything starts seeming very goal-oriented in the last year of high school, and the goal is college and graduating with a degree in four years. But you can't stick to the plan that you thought was leading to that goal when it is demonstrably not working. Time for a new plan.

If not being accepted early decision at his first choice school really was what set off this depression, then it's likely that he thinks he's failed already, and failing his remaining high school classes is just a logical extension of that failure (i.e. the worst has happened, so why not let it get worse?).

Also, the family deciding everything for him is not going to help his passivity or help him to succeed. He's the one who's going to have to take classes at college, not your family. Making decisions for him is only going to postpone his problems, not fix them.
posted by yasaman at 1:24 PM on April 18 [3 favorites]


Let him take a gap year if he wants. The current trajectory is that even if you manage to drag his body to a college, he is going to skip class and not do work and fail his classes. Then you will not be able to delete those grades from his transcript. He will be unable to transfer anywhere because no college will want him with his straight-F's.

It'll be so much better for him academically if he takes a year or two off, clears his head, and then goes to a good school. Otherwise if you continue like this, failing his first semester is going to send him even further down the spiral of low-confidence and fatalism.

For the schools you mentioned, in engineering and programming, U of Washington is 10 times better than UC Irvine, which is 10 times better than Santa Clara University.
posted by cheesecake at 1:25 PM on April 18


Our backup plan is for him to go to community college and then transfer to a 4-year school, but my parents would really rather not do this, because it feels like such a waste.

This is puzzling. The waste would be sending someone off to university who may or may not want to be there. When I've run classes for students on academic probation, the number 1 answer to 'why are you at college' was "mom and dad say I have to be here."

If someone doesn't want to be in school - for whatever reason - then going off to school is usually a recipe for disaster (especially someone who may be having mental health issues that they're then having to manage on their own in addition to all the stuff they're having to manage on their own for the first time).

Community college offers a chance for folks to get some college credits under their belt, get their feet under them, figure out what they're interested in (I also started out life as an engineering major. I'm a sociology professor now, go figure), and even fail a class or two in a lower stakes environment. If y'all are hellbent on him having to go to college straight out of high school, then community college is a good answer.
posted by joycehealy at 1:25 PM on April 18 [13 favorites]


I wound up dropping out of college because the only acceptable thing to do was GOTTA GO TO COLLEGE GOTTA GO TO COLLEGE and I was really burned out on school and could've used a year or two to just work and live. Still haven't gone back. Really wish I'd had the chance to just work and maybe do some stuff at a community college to stay fresh rather than being shoved headlong into university.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 1:29 PM on April 18 [1 favorite]


I'm a graduate of the UW CSE program. It's an absolutely excellent program. But it also is highly competitive to get in, and course load is difficult. (A lot of top CSE programs have 5 years programs, but UW CSE is only 4 years.) I know someone who was rejected twice before she got accepted, even though she did really well, was a intro programming TA, got an internship at one of the top tech companies, and was friends with all the students and profs.

Also, it doesn't help that UW is a quintessential big state school. For undecided undergrad students, there is a lot of support, but you have to actively go out and seek it. Nobody will keep tabs on him, or make him feel special, or make sure that he's getting good grades.

If your brother cannot handle rejection, and is not currently able to keep up with high school course work (for whatever reason), he should consider doing something else before applying to UW CSE.
posted by ethidda at 1:33 PM on April 18


I agree with the other folks here - I think you and your parents need to step way back and instead of telling him you're going to decide on his next life steps for him, let him know that what happens next is up to him, but if he chooses not to attend college, he'll have to start paying rent, and your parents won't be buying him groceries or doing his laundry if he stays at home.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 1:45 PM on April 18 [1 favorite]


If your brother is someone who has always performed well in school, the shock of something not going his way can be slightly traumatic. I didn't have a dream school for undergrad but I did for grad school and getting rejected made me feel awful for months. My sister always did really well in school, graduated #3 in her high school class, majored in biology, then took evolutionary biology and struggled to get a C. It was really hard for her.

You can't make him do his homework or make him want to go to college. You can encourage him to try seeing a different therapist and spend time outside of his room. Your parents can say, you can live at home rent-free if you're going to college but if not, you need to pay rent.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with going to community college and transferring to a four-year school (or not, even). My cousin went to high school in a county where, if you graduated high school with a B average or higher, you could go to the community college for free. She did that for two years, transferred into the four year public university, graduated, and just got into law school with a scholarship.

You may feel like he should go on antidepressants but it doesn't matter how you feel on that one. Not to sound like a jerk but it matters how he feels and how his doctor feels. Those universities are all great, from what I understand, but an engineering program is probably going to be pretty rigorous and I'm not sure that's what he needs right now.
posted by kat518 at 1:46 PM on April 18 [2 favorites]


This is something your brother needs to work out. Yes, he's probably depressed, yes, he's having a lot of shit foisted on him by his family.

Back off, let him not graduate high school. If you're in California, he can test out of high school. If he hates being there, and just wants to get it over with, he can take the test. It may be better than a GED, and he can still use his transcripts when applying to college.

There is definitely a mental health component, depression in young adults/late teens is SUPER-common, cliche common.

It will not be the end of anyone's world if he bailed on high school, there are tons of options out there. He can go to work, join the military, go to community college, etc.

What needs to happen is for your folks to sit down with him and explain what life looks like in their house if he decides not to deal with his future:

1. People not in school get jobs and pay rent.

2. People not in school don't have their phones, an allowance or clothing paid for by mom and dad.

3. People who are working, and show no signs of wanting to return to school, after 1 year will be required to move out and get their own place.

This is your brother's life to live, and he may just be a petulant baby, pouting because he didn't get early acceptance. It reminds me of Paul Dano's character in Little Miss Sunshine, when he finds out that his lifelong dream of joining the Air Force as a flyer are dashed. Your brother may be in a serious depression.


He's freaking out because he doesn't know what's going to happen, and all this craziness about high school makes NO sense to him.

So come up with a plan, WITH him, and help him execute it.

Tough love, antidepressants and Real Life, will help him. But it has to be all on him.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:47 PM on April 18 [3 favorites]


I went to college with an undiagnosed disorder, and I had a really shitty time as a result. Things don't magically get better.

He needs help. When you pin all your dreams on something, and you fail, that can be hell to get over, especially when you're a high schooler who found school easy. That's the catalyst but it's been too long now.

If he goes to college before he treats this, he might be me. He might flunk out and be stuck with that gpa forever. He'll have to fight fifty times harder to prove his worth. I wish more than anything else in my life, that I had waited a year.

Don't do tough love, that shit just makes you feel worse than you already do. What I needed was not to face some harsh reality, but to have someone to support me, to know it was okay to not follow the normal path. I found my way, I'm getting there, but it's been a process.

He can work for a while, it doesn't need to be enough to support himself, but to give him some structure. Part-time clerical or retail or whatever he can handle now. Then working with a counselor he can get to accomplish goals.

My diagnosis is not depression, but I can relate.
posted by Aranquis at 1:50 PM on April 18 [7 favorites]


I agree with the plans above for medical treatment and facing up to consequences.

But I wonder about the school itself. Can he attend another program at the same college? Part-time studies? Some other option? Could he take distance courses and go the next year? Take a different program and transfer in? Are there other ways to support his dream? These are questions I would work through. If he dreams of being an engineering major at _____ College, perhaps he could consider doing computer science or physics. Or maybe he wants ____ College because of certain traditions. As the rejection appears to be a triggering event, it may help to find a way to process it.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 1:53 PM on April 18


I think everyone's assuming that all the facts are known. They may not be.

What if brother had a painful romantic rejection or breakup that he hasn't told the family about or is struggling with something else humiliating he is not disclosing? This is something to take into account.
posted by shivohum at 1:59 PM on April 18


Our backup plan is for him to go to community college and then transfer to a 4-year school, but my parents would really rather not do this, because it feels like such a waste.

Why is this a waste?

It sounds like there's some deep seated "you must go exactly in to college at this way after high school(which you have to graduate duh!) and anything else is failure/slackerdom" sort of typical american parent bs going on here.

I totally disagree with all the stuff about having harsh consequences for him if he doesn't graduate. Because really, why should you care? I'm saying this as someone who dropped out of high school because he got fed up with it, took some time off(with totally supportive parents, who weren't planning to kick me out if i didn't do XYZ by ABC time), got a job and moved in with some friends when i felt like it.

Eventually i went to community college. I actually had a lot of easier time having chilled out, and done some of the angsty/stupid things people usually do early in college when they have no direction without you know, being in college to have stupid consequences of missed classes and therefor bad grades and academic probation/lost money/possibly lost benefits or scholarships to deal with.

Now i have a good job, and everything is fine. All of these assumptions, and the entire process of finishing highschool/getting in to college are just way too freighted in modern society. Jesus.

Another thing to get in to is what if he just doesn't give a shit. Why does it have to be depression? Just because he's not taking this thing you guys are placing so much importance on as serious as you all are doesn't mean there's something wrong with him. I see, as some others did, an awful lot of us/our in there in a prescriptive way, and not so much what he actually cares about or wants to do.

That exact mindset caused a lot of my friends to flame out. I know several people who are just putting their boots back on and getting back into the thick of school in their mid 20s because of that shit.

So yea, put me down as one of the people who thinks he should both get to do what he wants to do now, and that it's better to fuck off now than while in school and end up kicked out/etc and having to mop up after that. The end of high school is the perfect time to screw off and screw up without any real responsibilities. There's just way too much "you'll ruin your life if you don't do EXACTLY THIS" flying around right then that really just needs to be sidestepped.
posted by emptythought at 1:59 PM on April 18 [10 favorites]


Jesus would you all just let up about college? There is no good reason he has to go next year aside from you and your family's expectation. He is clearly unmotivated, and you forcing him to attend isn't going to do anything except help him major in drinking, weed and slacking.

Has anyone asked him what he wants to do if he's not interested in heading for college in September?
posted by DarlingBri at 2:03 PM on April 18 [11 favorites]


Huh? No school, no homework = no recreational internet access. When you're in high school, your job is to go to school and prepare for your future. If you're not doing your "job," you don't receive your "salary."

Reaction 1: he capitulates, grudgingly does enough homework to graduate
Reaction 2: he gets so annoyed that he leaves home and/or gets a job to fund his own smartphone or gaming set-up

Either way, he's one step closer to adulthood. Yes, he needs support dealing with his feelings of disappointment. But he also needs an incentive to deal with them.
posted by salvia at 2:05 PM on April 18 [1 favorite]


When I originally read the question I did not notice that he isn't going to school because he won't get out of bed in the morning. That detail seems to suggest there is more to the story here.

I still think that letting him decide what to do next and expecting him to pay rent and do his own chores if he doesn't go to college is a good idea. I wouldn't consider this to be harsh consequences. You can be supportive and still expect him to do a minimum standard acting like an adult thing. But ensure that he has access to good mental health care (I don't think interrogating him more yourself about his mental health is going to be helpful).
posted by treehorn+bunny at 2:08 PM on April 18


I forgot to add that while I am a fan of tough love, when someone is depressed, tough love is destructive. When you dare someone to sink or swim when they are gulping down water, what do you think the result will be?

He needs help, support and compassion, not threats and ultimatums. If anyone is issuing ultimatums, they need to be around therapeutic compliance, not laying off WoW.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:11 PM on April 18 [10 favorites]


The school is now fast losing their patience with him, and they will probably not let him graduate. Our backup plan is for him to go to community college and then transfer to a 4-year school, but my parents would really rather not do this, because it feels like such a waste.

You seem pretty anxious about his future plans. Honestly, all he really needs to concentrate on is feeling better, getting therapy, taking meds if he needs to.

I don't believe in tough love, mostly based on who I am. A little kindness, support and toning down all the worrying would probably go a long way in helping him.

If he doesn't graduate from high school because he's going through something emotionally right now, it doesn't really matter. It's not an unrecoverable situation. He'd pass the GED if he needed to. Similarly, going to a CC and transferring out can be a great way to save money, especially if the cc has an associates in engineering program. The cc near me has one and it's grads get full rides to study engineering at GW (w/stipend!) and VTech and all kinds of places. Saving money is dope.

Give him some space so he doesn't have to feel cornered and defensive. Everything you describe about college and flunking out if high school is not necessary dooming him to be a failure and you and your parents need to chill out. Let him be and know that even if he did flunk out, he can get his GED and it's not a big deal---definitely not as much as you and your parents think it is. You guys are worried, but don't go to him to solve all your anxieties. Let him recover and have some space to think and go through this disappointment. And suggest a therapist, express your concern that he's depressed, but don't pester him to death right now.
posted by discopolo at 2:19 PM on April 18


Was the rejection his first taste of real failure? I ask this because I went to an academically competitive high school and witnessed a couple of people have a meltdown like this when they did not get into their top choice school. It's a big blow to the ego and at that age it's difficult to avoid having that failure dominate your life. You spend all your time studying and your grades/SAT scores are the only metric you have to judge yourself. You don't have the life experience yet that tells you that failure is just a phase that will pass if you work through it.

I went to college after a similar meltdown and wound up doing well, but my self-esteem took about a decade to bounce back. I spent all my time studying and trying to make up for my perceived lack of value as a person (yes, that's what my teenage self took away from the rejection and no, I didn't really know how to have a productive conversation about it with anyone). In college, I passed up opportunities to make friends and develop other skill sets so that I could study and make up for what I didn't do in high school. I also didn't take a lot of chances or apply for opportunities because my diminished self-confidence told me I wouldn't succeed anyway. I'm not sure pushing myself to go to college when I felt that way about myself was really the healthiest thing to do. I went all tough love on myself and made myself study for hours, work after school, beat myself up when I got a bad grade, etc but I'm really not convinced that it would have been as good as having some real understanding and compassion would have been. None of it had to be so hard.

I would have loved to have someone tell me that I would be okay, that I was a competent person, that I hadn't lost all opportunity for success, that I wouldn't be a mediocrity and a failure, no matter what college I got into (yes, dramatic and illogical conclusions, but again, I was a teenager and had no real life experience). I would have liked to see that there was more to life than school, books, and getting things just right. It would have helped to hear from someone's life experience that life is about trying again when you fail, liking yourself for who you are and being open to opportunities, not about being right. That this failure would only be the first in a long line of failures, but also that ultimately getting up after the failure would lead to real happiness and success.

Because I was, like your brother, depressed, combative, ashamed, and secretive, no one ever said those things to me and I spent most of college being needlessly lonely, scared, and angry. I would not have minded if someone had delivered the message that my life could be so much better to me harshly. I would have found "Wake the fuck up, quit feeling sorry for yourself when you could be so great" harsh, but positive. "You better go to a college you don't care for because otherwise for vague nebulous reasons you don't yet understand you won't succeed in life" would have felt damning. What I found the most difficult to deal with was the over-protectiveness. It made me feel like the people who knew me best, the people who were supposed to be counted on to see the best in me, had no confidence in me. I couldn't feel confident in myself because I couldn't see past my failure, and I couldn't draw on the people around me to feel confident. So I stopped talking to people about it.

I think he could gain back his confidence and perspective by taking on more responsibility for himself. So, yes, have him pay rent, give him household responsibilities, and stop hassling him about college because that's his responsibility, not yours. He's a bright, motivated person who has a lot of support from his family. He will be fine even if he takes another two years to graduate from high school and go to college somewhere.

Also, here's another vote for UW for computer science. I went to graduate school in computer science with a bunch of UW graduates. They were all extremely well prepared, competent, and motivated people. Also fun, kind, and a pleasure to be around. When your brother is actually ready for college, he could thrive there.
posted by rhythm and booze at 2:38 PM on April 18 [15 favorites]


Leaving high school can be really daunting. A lot of people are scared shitless and he sounds like he is both scared and depressed. If this were my brother, I would encourage him to spend a year working at whatever kind of job and taking a couple of community college courses in subjects that he likes or is curious about. If he's living with your parents, he can pay some rent. And of course he should seek treatment for his mental health issues.

I kind of did this. My plan was actually on the advice of one of my high school teachers-- go to college for a year and then take a gap year, the idea being not to waste the gap year finding a college to go to. Looking back, it would have been better for me to get a placing-- or identify a program-- and take the gap year before starting. Or two years, even. And I think that would be good for your brother to do. Or if he does indeed not graduate from HS, just worry about that part later. It is so, so common to do something like this. Going to college after doing something else, you have any number of advantages-- attitude, maturity, experience of other things. Finding yourself in a freshman dorm when you're depressed and shaky, on the other hand, is not something you need.

But this is all getting ahead of things. He really needs to get help for whatever it is that's going on. Maybe I'm connecting the dots wrong, but I'm a bit annoyed with the college advisers at his high school. Why was he not prepared to be rejected from that one early decision school? I know high school students don't listen to their advisers but somehow I feel as if someone dropped the ball here.
posted by BibiRose at 3:03 PM on April 18 [1 favorite]


I just want to share with you that I barely scraped out a HS diploma and ended up at a community college. More than ten years later, I am pretty successful by conventional metrics and, more importantly to me, super happy and surrounded by close and loving friends.

It's not going to be the end of the world or a tragic waste if your brother takes some major detours. Raising the stakes on this is going to make you feel terrible and won't help him at all. Learning how to fail is just as important as learning to succeed. Consider trying to accept that the outcome you see as disastrous may happen and may be totally okay. Even positive in the long term.
posted by prefpara at 3:52 PM on April 18 [3 favorites]


I can't tell you how many people I've known in the last ten years or so who have gone to a community college that was a feeder school for the college that they *really* wanted to attend, did well, learned the ins and outs of college papers and grading and so forth, and then graded in to the school of their choice in their junior year. It saves money and it is a path for success for many people. Community college isn't a waste of time in any way, provided that you choose the right one. The ones I'm thinking of are in California and feed UCLA and Berkeley, both of which are very difficult to get into as a freshman.
posted by janey47 at 3:56 PM on April 18 [1 favorite]


My advice as an internet stranger, with extremely limited information, is to sit your brother down and tell him that you love him, and that you can tell that what he's going through is hard, and that you're proud of him for just being himself, and that you will be there to support him if he asks for it. Then back off.

(This will be hard. Much easier said than done.)
posted by tinymegalo at 4:08 PM on April 18 [1 favorite]


Sounds like you need to look into a continuation school or GED for him, first off.

Second: for the love of god, don't try to send him to college now. He's just gonna immediately flunk out and waste your money if he's in this state and can't even finish high school, and then everyone will be even more pissed off.

Frankly, it sounds like GED/continuation and therapy are in order here. Dude has been devastated enough to throw his life as it was away for the last year: that needs to be dealt with before you force him into community college.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:16 PM on April 18


UW CSE is above and beyond the best of those three. It's also brutal, and if you don't get early acceptance your chances are low of making it into the major unless you have an arrogant level of intelligence :P

I have family in that program right now, and went to the school.


If the other schools have easier CSE programs to get into, and UW doesn't give him early admit to CSE, it's worth considering not going to UW. Tough choice, but many students turn down UW CSE to have a certain chance at studying the major at an easier school.

Only 10-15% of students who want to do UW CSE get admitted into the major.
posted by jjmoney at 4:50 PM on April 18


Not in any way to minimize this situation, but I'm a high school principal and every year when college acceptance letters arrive, I have at least one graduating senior who does something like this. I'm just saying this isn't all that unusual.

You have to imagine the culture from your brother's perspective: early decision probably means he worked very hard for a very long time with his eye on a single prize: to get into ONE SPECIFIC COLLEGE. (And you mention engineering and a lifetime of excellent academic performance; it looks like your brother has been under a massive amount of stress for years.) Just because your parents didn't pressure him in overt ways doesn't mean that he didn't feel a massive amount of pressure, whether imposed by himself or in subtle ways by your family. (That you keep saying "we" makes me think your family puts a hell of a lot of pressure on this kid, and I'm not slamming you but I am saying that don't be so sure that your family isn't pressuring him.)

For years, your brother busts his butt. He works with teachers, with a guidance counselor. He does his homework. He does his college app. He is probably excited as fuck. He is looking forward to one singular moment that is going to clearly define the next four years of his life and probably vaguely guide his entire adult life. He has busted his ass for years for this one single Olympian moment of glory.

And then he doesn't get in.

This is crushing. For some kids, it is beyond comprehension and they spiral down. Why should he care about school now? There's no point in graduating; his future plans have been completely stepped on by some dumbass college admissions committee. And to make it worse, every day he goes to school, I'm sure there are classmates whooping and hollering because they got into college.

Of course he doesn't give a fuck right now. Why should he?

So what we do/what you should do, is recognize how much pain he's in. You need to recognize how sad he is while not letting him wallow in it. He needs to see that OMG of course there are other options than this one college. His guidance counselor/favorite teacher or dean or whoever needs to create a plan to graduate.

That's it. He needs to graduate. I would also strongly suggest that he get a part-time job; at a grocery store, at a place where he is forced to interact with people.

Your brother needs to be busy. Busy people get shit done. People with hours to play on their computers, not so much. He needs to get pulled out of his head and his anger and start making concrete steps to just get his ass out of high school.

DO NOT HAVE "WHAT ARE YOU DOING NEXT YEAR?" CONVERSATIONS. No. He just needs to get out of high school. And if that involves walking with his class AND finishing at summer school; that's great. We do that all the time with our seniors.

Your brother will be fine as long as he feels supported. The community college is a waste of time type of talk; you guys better cut that out now. It's his life and he's already cracked under pressure.

If you start talking about where his future is going to suck and how he can not graduate but he needs to get a job and pay rent; you're putting way too much pressure on him. You need to back off, get his school to step up and help get him out of there, and this kid needs to be more busy with work.

Ideas of where "we" want him to go to school? Cut it out. The goal, for now, is he graduates. Pressure his school to make that happen.

Get him to join a gym or a CrossFit group also. I wouldn't immediately think antidepressants as much as get him off the computer for hours at a time.

And...he's not talking to his therapist? Of course he isn't. His therapist is a weekly reminder that he's a failure.

So help him find things where he will succeed and get off his back as much as possible and let him see that he can problem solve and he'll be fine.
posted by kinetic at 4:28 AM on April 19 [11 favorites]


I have to agree with some previous commenters that the best option is to sit him down and tell him you love him and that there will always be a place for him to stay at home, especially if he's recovering from some heartbreak or depression. In both instances, he'll eventually recover and desire a college education. In no case does it make sense for you to move heaven and earth (such as by applying for him) to get him enrolled now. If he's not going to go to classes, he'll have a much harder time explaining to future grad school admissions deans or future employers why he did so badly. At that point it would be hard to explain lack of motivation or clinical depression, if either is the case.

This is the kind of thread that totally resonates because I've basically been your brother:

I was very successful in a very competitive high school too but had already developed some signs of major depression by my junior or senior years. Because I didn't know of any other path, I went to college after having done some damage to my high school grades, including failing a beginning foreign language elective. (In hindsight it's confusing why this wasn't a major flag for someone, especially me--I had taken much harder classes in previous years with consistent success.)

My first year of college was miserable. I wasn't doing the problem sets, I couldn't focus on reading, and I wasn't trying to make any friends. Eventually I took a major overdose of several OTC medicines that I had stockpiled, which was a devastating experience for my family and also for my dorm mates. I can't remember anything that happened in the next few days because I was first hallucinating then unconscious then just very confused for several days in the university hospital, but I remember my roommates' fear and hesitation when they came to visit me. Anyway, at that point school officials essentially asked me to leave.

While several years of doing nothing and being out of school came next, my parents were never exactly sympathetic, and I felt I couldn't share with (my very limited) circle of friends how I was feeling. I didn't feel that I was ill in any way, and even today I consider part of my problem basic lack of motivation. Anyway, eventually I did go on to earn two degrees from respectable schools and now have a perfectly good career, but it took almost ten years for me to start therapy and medication--this time I recognized the slow slide and was able to get help. That I was living alone in a new city was actually helpful. Nobody made decisions to perpetuate the path I was on (which might, for your brother, be college), and I didn't have to fend off worried friends and family.
posted by flyingfork at 2:52 PM on April 19 [1 favorite]


He sounds not just depressed, but really depressed. For a high school to see a good student fall apart that way and not offer effective help is unacceptable, but, unfortunately, not surprising. Talk to the school and your brother about any possible way he can finish and get his diploma. I'd be pretty assertive with the school about their failure to provide appropriate assistance.

Get him therapy, if he'll accept it.
posted by theora55 at 9:38 AM on April 20


Your brother might be depressed, but he might just be SAD and DISAPPOINTED and EMBARRASSED. Not every feeling is a pathology, and not every person who feels like they can't get out of bed in the morning needs drugs (and I am very pro drugs!). God, he's 18 and not getting into his preferred school probably feels like the end of the world. Teenagers aren't particularly resilient and if he has been particularly single-minded, he may honestly have no idea how to recalibrate his plans for the future.

I'm with kinetic on this one. Back off the post-secondary plans, just help the guy get out of high school. Get him active and keep him busy. If he's smart and was capable of getting good grades in high school, he will probably make his way to post-secondary eventually, it just might not be along the path everyone expects. This is just a speed bump, probably the first of many, life is complicated and hardly ever does the road run smooth!

I've kinda been your brother, too, high achieving kid who burned out in senior year. I dropped out before I even heard back from universities because I just did not give a fuck, but eventually I got my act together--on my own, without my parents on my back about it, because I WAS NOT HAVING IT--and went on to undergrad and grad school and now I'm a well-paid productive member of society. Some of us just do things the hard way.
posted by looli at 11:01 AM on April 20


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