Suicidal Nephew Possibly Moving In - No Job, No GED, No Car
December 29, 2015 11:06 PM   Subscribe

My 18-year-old nephew tried to commit suicide two months ago, right before his birthday. At that time, and a couple times a couple years ago, my husband and I offered to let him come live with us. His mom wouldn't let him before he turned 18, and, after his suicide attempt, he chose to continue living with his mom. His mom just quit her job to move out of state, and the consensus has been that he'll come live with me and my husband. I've been open to it, until this past week or so.

My nephew's been unemployed for nearly a year (he held down a part-time, 10-hour a week job for a couple months, before it got too hard), and he hasn't gone to school for several years. He was pulled out of public school to go to online school, which his mother never followed-up on for more than a semester or two (something I didn't learn until recently). He also doesn't have a driver's license or a car, in a town with absolutely zero public transportation of any kind. He doesn't want to walk anywhere, and he doesn't want to work without his GED, which he argues will take "years" to get.

From what I'm aware of, he's made no efforts to get a job and no efforts to get his GED. Whenever my parents or his mom tell him he needs to get a job and/or his GED, he says he needs to ask his therapist for permission to do that. (I've heard this second-hand.) When I talked to him about it right after his suicide attempt, he said he wanted to get his GED and a job, but he didn't know if he could do both at once. I told him right then that, if he lives with me, he needs to be working or enrolled in a community college (post-GED).

Moreover, my husband and I have hung out with him more frequently than normal for the past couple of months, taking him to movies and out to lunch/dinner. He won't talk. It's impossible to have a conversation with him. He wouldn't talk to anyone at Christmas. After the movies/dinners and Christmas, my husband said that if my nephew acts like that (no talking) when he lives here, he won't be living here for long.

My nephew's had a rough life: emotional abuse from my mom, alcoholism/fighting/multiple boyfriends from his mom, and a dad who has never been in the picture. When he tried to commit suicide, his mom never came to the hospital and only went to the behavioral health hospital once. My mom went to the ER with us, but spent the whole time shaming and blaming him. I was there every day and got everything set up and taken care of. When my nephew went home after the attempt, my sister immediately brought her boyfriend over for date night, and then was out of town for the rest of the weekend, and my nephew was home by himself. That's what he's lived with for a long time. I don't want him living with that any longer. But.

I'm really worried about him living with us, and I just told my mom that he can't come here unless he has a job. My husband and I both work in cities 40 minutes away from where we live; we're trying to have kids; and I'm worried that my nephew will sit upstairs and play video games all day, while we work, clean, cook, and pay all the bills. That's what he does at his mom's house, although he denies it. (My husband's a gamer, and I occasionally get really invested in a couple of video games, so we're not the GAMES ARE EVIL AND SUCK type. And we know that when he tells us that he's Level 92 on Fallout 4 a week after its release that he's sitting around playing video games all day and night.) Trash cans sit in front of their house for days after trash pick up, and he'll let dishes stack up in the sink. He won't mow the lawn in the summer. He doesn't do chores. I'm worried about what will happen, when he refuses to get a job if we don't give him rides, and when he decides that it will take him years to get his GED because of his lack of education. I want to get him out of the environment he's in, but we've seen NOTHING from him: no engagement, no effort, barely a word here or there, and not even a .99 cent Christmas card (EVER). I don't want to enable him to be helpless, but I don't want to kick an unwell kid out on his ass or keep him in an unhealthy environment.

He's been on medication and in therapy since his attempt, but I have seen no change in his behavior, and he won't talk, so I can't help him. The most he talked to me is when I visited him at the behavioral health hospital, and we had an hour and a half discussion about life and his future, and I swear he seemed more healthy and bright then than he does now at all, and I have no idea which kid I'll be getting -- the one who wants better for himself, or the one who's done before he's even started. I just don't know.

I'm driving him to therapy tomorrow, and I'm planning on telling him that if he's not working by the end of January, then he's moving with his mom. Is this the right thing to do? Are we being too hard on him? Should special consideration be made for his mental health? I have no idea what the right move is, and I would appreciate any insight.

Maybe relevant: my husband and I are in our mid-twenties, career professionals, with pets in the house. No kids yet but we're actively trying. We live in the U.S.

Thanks in advance.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (87 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'd try to talk to the therapist and/or the behavioral health hospital, and get their input on whether family therapy could help with this transition. Talking about concerns in a therapeutic environment might be helpful, and then there would be a go-to resource to help mediate in the future.
posted by Little Dawn at 11:31 PM on December 29, 2015 [12 favorites]


What are your thoughts on how he'd get to and from a job? Can he walk to one? Can he afford a car? Can it be a condition of you taking him in, that other family buy him one? I think you're on the right track with setting high expectations, but I would make sure your expectations are achievable.
posted by salvia at 11:33 PM on December 29, 2015 [11 favorites]


You are right that there are massive red flags here. It seems that it will be difficult if not impossible to help him by having him move in without also enabling him. He has real barriers (lack of education, lack of transportation) and letting him move in without the tools to address these and other issues isn't going to be productive for anyone.

This situation just screams for Job Corps (FAQ, eligibility quiz, locations). He can get a GED and job training, it's free, it's not a super long program, and it's fairly structured.
posted by charmcityblues at 11:44 PM on December 29, 2015 [22 favorites]


I think if you do this you will absolutely need to agree on boundaries and it's fine to require that he be working toward getting better and building his life. But finding a job in less than a month with no GED sounds like it might be hard for anyone, let alone for a kid dealing with depression and the upheaval of his mom moving away. And the distorted thinking that he'll take years to get his GED is probably also the depression talking. You sound really frustrated with him, which is understandable, but if I were him, I wouldn't want to confide in you if what I needed was support and encouragement.

I think if you do this you need to adjust your expectations a bit. Maybe talk with him and his therapist and figure out what's realistic. And clearly that's more than he's doing now, but going from zero to a job, chores, and school is a lot.

It's also OK to decide that you can't take this on. You have a lot going on in your life right now. But it seems like you're setting him up to fail right now instead of admitting that you don't have the bandwidth to have him live with you.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 11:48 PM on December 29, 2015 [82 favorites]


Re: the GED, can he take a practice test, online or in a book, to see if he would just pass it? It seems like he's afraid he would have to take lengthy classes, but he should see what his score would be if he just took the exam. All my cousin had to do to pass the GED was review her math.
posted by Violet Hour at 12:11 AM on December 30, 2015 [9 favorites]


(This sounds really rough for everyone and I'm sorry. I don't mean to imply that taking the GED would fix all his problems, but it's one concrete thing he could do, and may be easier than he thinks.)
posted by Violet Hour at 12:15 AM on December 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


I agree nephew should do chores and either be active in getting a get, job training, or job hunting. Since you and SO are out for work all day, how is he going to physically get to these tasks along with health appointments? Nthing it's a really good idea if you can talk to his counselor with him to help agree to expectations. I'd try and talk with kid and councelor directly about options. Triangulation through mom and grandma seems like it may not really help in this case.
posted by Kalmya at 12:33 AM on December 30, 2015


How about driving him into your city every morning and picking him up in the evening? He can go to a library and study for the GED or apply for jobs in the city. He wont need a car if he comes with you. If he can't create a structure for himself you can help him piggyback on yours.

If he either gets his ged or a job you can help him further, by offering to pay for driving lessons, but best to start with what you have instead of worrying about all of his problems all at once.
posted by charlielxxv at 12:49 AM on December 30, 2015 [16 favorites]


If he's as depressed as he sounds, I'm not sure that a job is a realistic demand. Even if it could be made realistic, I don't think it even works with non-depressed adults to start with an ultimatum. You guys need to sit down (I suggest all three of you, with a therapist) and discuss what you all individually need and see if you can jointly agree a workable solution. You also need to answer for yourself how far you are willing to go to make it work.
posted by frumiousb at 12:56 AM on December 30, 2015 [52 favorites]


Don't take this kid in, you're just going to end up resenting him or throwing him out. Don't create another failed family for him. He can't give you what you are asking (work, study, conversation) at the moment because he is so badly unwell he tried to kill himself and ended up hospitalized.
posted by Iteki at 1:04 AM on December 30, 2015 [184 favorites]


It's not about "enabling helplessness". What he needs are people who can enable success. He's not going to be successful if you offer him a home only on the condition that he meets completely unrealistic standards. That is totally setting him up to fail at those goals, and also, as Iteki pointed out, for more rejection.

What he needs is a lot of patience and love and gentle encouragement (and hands off when it's too much). Then, when he's a bit settled, a bit of structure. The goals have to be small. Tiny. Maybe a walk a day. Maybe, in a bit, *one* course. OR a low-demand volunteer activity. That is (possibly) realistic.

I think he senses your judgement, and I think that's part of his lack of communication with you, apart from issues around his depression. If you aim to do this, 2nd talking to someone who can help with the transition (and help pitch your expectations somewhere closer to reality).

Should special consideration be made for his mental health?

Yes.
posted by cotton dress sock at 1:23 AM on December 30, 2015 [123 favorites]


He can't give you what you are asking (work, study, conversation) at the moment because he is so badly unwell he tried to kill himself and ended up hospitalized.

Yeah, he's severely mentally ill and convalescing. That's what a suicide attempt indicates, and it makes absolute sense that he's not much better after two months—you go to the hospital to keep yourself from dying, not to get healthy. Especially with something like depression. That happens after you leave.

Like, look, I've never been as unwell as he sounds, but I was nearly 30 before I experienced a significant remission (defined as more than 6 weeks!) of my depression symptoms. And it's not like I hadn't been trying.
posted by listen, lady at 2:13 AM on December 30, 2015 [33 favorites]


I patently don't think you should take him in. Given your description of your circumstances and his mental state/behaviour, this would be too much for you to take on and would end in disaster for all concerned.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 2:27 AM on December 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


In my experience, severe depression really stunts one's emotional growth. Staying alive and dragging oneself through life in what can feel like a suit of concrete and lead boots just takes so much energy. The fact that he is now 18 and legally an adult is kind of a red herring. You might do better thinking of him as a difficult 14 year old and reducing your expectations according.

You just aren't inviting a productive adult into your home and you can't think of it that way or he's doomed to fail your expectations. You're basically considering fostering a disturbed teen. That's a whole different ballgame. All the best to both of you.
posted by kitten magic at 2:32 AM on December 30, 2015 [64 favorites]


You're expecting him to be a fully functioning adult with tasks that would be challenging for anyone to complete at once - hold down a full time job, study and help run a household. This, for someone who is essentially still a child where getting dressed that day is a major accomplishment. He will never, ever live up to what you want, at least at the outset and he's already being set up to fail. And this is obviously not a person who can handle failure at the moment.

I don't think you should take him in at all because it's clear it's not going to work. However if you do, start small. Set him one task a day - do the dishes or water the plants. Then work his way up gradually when he feels up to it by enrolling in his study. This may be way down the track. Or not at all. He's so fragile, it must seem like an insurmountable task for him right now so he needs to gain his confidence by small things that he can do. And therapy.

If you can't support him both financially and emotionally (and it's understandable, you're basically being asked to parent a damaged child whose fully reliant on you, and one that's not even yours) then I would reconsider as you could very well do more harm than good.
posted by Jubey at 2:45 AM on December 30, 2015 [23 favorites]


From a commenter who would like to remain anonymous:
I have older kids with varying mental health issues, and I have very different expectations for them. One kid - if he didn't get a job, make his bed, clean his room and pay his own bills, I would be super disappointed because he is capable of that easily. The other kid, if he makes a meal and washes the dishes afterwards, there are days where that is a huge accomplishment. Other people judge him badly and my job as a parent is to stand between that and cheer him along his own path where he's dealing with so much that those people can't or won't see. He has several suicide attempts already.

You have a kid who has tried to kill himself seriously and recently, who is dealing with depression and likely PTSD and lacks a bunch of skills that other teenagers have.

Getting him into online video games with a supportive guild, regular therapy sessions, some low-key volunteering he can handle to help him get skills and connections, and a long plan towards a GED - two years to do it is fine! - something that is adapted to what he is capable of, not what a regular teen is capable of.

You need to talk to a therapist in depth about this decision, and if you take him in, sign up for weekly family therapy. Your husband needs to be onboard and go to the sessions too.

And if you can't do that, then help him find a place where he can get that - other relatives, boarding school meant for kids in his situation, group housing where you regularly visit.

We stumbled into accidentally parenting very troubled kids, and it has been hard. You need a lot of specific skills that therapy and reading and experienced parents will help you learn, patience, compassion and empathy. You need to have firm boundaries and good communication. I would parent a troubled kid again when this household is grown up, but OTOH, I have friends who couldn't make it work and ended up having to surrender the child or find another placement due to the child's mental illness.

Love doesn't fix this, but love, knowledge and good boundaries will give him a decent chance at stability.

You would definitely need to delay your pregnancy for at least six months to see how the arrangement is working out, so many changes would be too much stress for everyone in the household.
posted by taz at 3:06 AM on December 30, 2015 [69 favorites]


Also, if you're reading this and thinking "oh, come on, what would he done if this had been the sixties or if he was in a third world country" or whatever (it's a thought that does tend to pop up), the answer is simple, he'd probably be dead. He's in a time and place where his disease is somewhat recognized and often survivable, but he's at the start of his recovery, not the end. If it helps, just imagine he has polio or something, and it could still kill him.
posted by Iteki at 3:42 AM on December 30, 2015 [39 favorites]


He has two broken legs and you're asking him to walk in a month, and if he's not walking, he "won't be living here long". I can predict where this leads. Another suicide attempt. Because guess what, he is going to fail at whatever timeline or ultimatum you propose, I can almost guarantee it. And if you want to know which kid you get - the one who wants better for himself, or the one who is done before he starts, then ask yourself, what message am I projecting at him? That he has intrinsic value and that I believe in him? Or that I think he's a failure because of all the things he can't do?

In fact, for him it's kind of crucial that he fail at whatever timeline and ultimatum you throw at him. Because it's not his legs that are broken but his spirit. He believes he has no value and the world doesn't want him, hence his attempted exit. In order to face the world he needs some kind of belief that it's worth it, that he has intrinsic value. If you send him the message that he is valued only for how much he can manage to accomplish out there -- that your caring for him is conditional on him succeeding and is withdrawn the moment he fails -- then in effect you say he has no intrinsic value after all. And in his mind, you become just another part of the oppressive structure.

Personally, I believe he is desperate for unconditional love, and the only way he can think to find that is to fail at every condition that is put in front of him and see what happens. He's testing to see if the world actually does care about him intrinsically, or if it will drop him like a hot stone when he fails at everything. The answer to this question determines whether he attempts to go on living or not.

What he needs is to be valued unconditionally for as long as he needs. He needs love and then time and space until he begins to believe that he is not going to be cast aside, and then, only then, does it make sense to start talking about contributing to the household. It is a lot to ask for. He will indeed sit around and play video games for a long time. He will not engage in conversations for a long time. There is no way in the world he can have a job by January. January of 2018 might be a good target. If it helps, imagine he's been run over a truck and broken every bone in his body and needs to learn how to walk again from scratch.

It's not his fault, you realize? He's the victim here? Without love and a stable home he has no inner place to go back to in his mind. His world is a battleground with no safe places. You can't fight battles under such conditions. You just can't. You need to be able to rest in between fights. For that you need at least one part of the world to be safe. If you can't give him this, it is best not to take him in.

If you do take him in, eventually he will start to feel bad that he's mooching off of you and this will become part of the problem. I would suggest imposing some kind of structure. Like, for the next six months, you are allowed to rest and just be and we will take care of you. After that, we expect you to start helping around the house a little bit. Eventually, we expect you to work towards your GED and a job. The key is to ramp up the expectations to match his abilities, and not to issue ultimatums or deadlines.
posted by PercussivePaul at 3:44 AM on December 30, 2015 [153 favorites]


Maybe the folks at NAMI would be helpful to chat with.

The more I think about this, the more worried I am about your mismatch of perspective here. Suicidal Nephew Possibly Moving In - No Job, No GED, No Car—he's also barely alive, so I can't imagine he has the energy to give a shit about any of that. Two months ago he almost died. This isn't the flu.
posted by listen, lady at 3:53 AM on December 30, 2015 [38 favorites]


I told him right then that, if he lives with me, he needs to be working or enrolled in a community college

my husband said that if my nephew acts like that (no talking) when he lives here, he won't be living here for long

I just told my mom that he can't come here unless he has a job

I'm planning on telling him that if he's not working by the end of January, then he's moving with his mom

Being told all this would stress the hell out of me, and I have a job and am not suicidal. I really don't think this is the right approach for a kid who is really fragile right now, whether you like it or not. Especially one who seems to have been treated with such a lack of empathy all his life.

I agree with everyone who said he needs a better environment than what you can offer him. At the very least he needs someone who has a clue about suicidal depression. I do think that you can help do the legwork to find a program for him (is there anyone else on his side doing anything?), and that if he needs to stay at your place for a month or two or three before moving to a different environment, it would be very kind of you to take him in, let him live videogames if that's what he chooses right now (it's not like you and your husband aren't the ones doing all the household stuff right now anyway), and be gentle with him. He sounds like a kid who hasn't had a ton of gentleness in his life.

If you decide to take him in long-term, then definitely work with his therapist (or other guidance from people who actually know something about depression) to figure out what would help him emotionally first of all. And whatever you do, get your husband on board with it. The last thing I'd need in that situation is to sense that my hosts are resenting my presence or lack of ability to perform, or that all their interactions with me are charged with expectations that I'm going to fail at. Incapacitating lack of motivation is exactly what depression is, and it's not something you can just bootstrap your way out of or apply a bit of grit to. Don't take him in if you or your husband believe weakness must be a moral failing, or that you can shake him out of it if you just shake him hard enough.
posted by egg drop at 4:13 AM on December 30, 2015 [31 favorites]


I do think that you can help do the legwork to find a program for him (is there anyone else on his side doing anything?)

oh YEAH—like an appropriate goal for him (that would keep him busier and out of the house part of the day) would be 5-day-a-week participation in an intensive outpatient or partial hospitalization program.
posted by listen, lady at 4:18 AM on December 30, 2015 [18 favorites]


The fact that you are asking if special consideration should be made for his mental health tells me that you are unfit to care for this person. I think living with you would make him feel worse. Don't take him in.
posted by frantumaglia at 4:25 AM on December 30, 2015 [66 favorites]


Do you want his next and possibly successful suicide attempt on your hands? If so, proceed with the plan you have outlined here. I have been clinically depressed, not to the point of suicide but certainly to the point of feeling I was worthless, that everything I did was wrong, that I was a burden and a danger to anyone who loved me. And no, I did not want to talk about it to them. Getting out of bed was a chore, holding a job or going to school at that point just was not possible. As a previous poster said, you are expecting someone with a broken leg to get right up and dance, or he is out. It will be a disaster for all of you if you take him in with this attitude.

He needs some kind of structured program to help him recover from the low point he has reached. If you are not prepared to offer him unconditional love with no expectations, do not take him in to live with you, it will only fail. Talk to the therapist and get a real assessment of his condition and the prognosis, if medication is working or should be changed, if there is any sort of group home he can qualify for, or a compassionate, structured day program with gradual recovery as a goal. You are young to be dealing with this, want your own family, not this damaged nephew. At this point this seems not something you can do right, and you have to be honest with yourself about that and do your best to seek alternatives where he would be safe and valued. Taking on more than you can realistically handle at this time could spell disaster for you and especially for him.
posted by mermayd at 4:34 AM on December 30, 2015 [12 favorites]


Being willing to take him in is amazing. Really, it is. But being willing is not the same thing as being ready to help him. He may need you later when you are in a better position to help.

Re, possible outcome, "he won't be living here for long." How will that play out? You need a concrete plan for that. Putting him on a bus to his mom's in a few months is not a scenario that anyone wants or is likely to be better than the current option. Either you are in, or not, or responsible for finding him a better place to move to if you cannot provide a home for him any longer.

Watched someone take in a nephew under similar circumstances, but as a temporary breather because immigration rules meant he only had 90 days with his uncle. It was tough all the way around, but it had a clear and externally well-defined end point. Yours does not, so are you ready for the long term?

Also, he will be living with you, but legally an adult at 18. You can't really control him or his behavior other than by escalating to official channels if it comes to that. Not good for him or you.
posted by Gotanda at 5:05 AM on December 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


Oh boy. What you are considering can work, but you need to go into this with a very clear plan and you need to know that it is not going to be easy and it's damned unlikely your nephew will thank you for this. To make it work you are going to have to provide structure and a clear plan with very high expectations for his behavior and activities. It's not going to be a vacation for him and he is NOT going to like this. That said, it can be the best thing anyone does for him, but you need to know exactly what you're getting yourself into, as does he.

I'm a teacher at a high school for kids pretty much exactly like your nephew and I have a few suggestions which I would make non-negotiable conditions for him to move in.

He needs to get enrolled in school. There absolutely are schools for kids like him. You need to investigate therapeutic high schools in the area. If you memail where you are, I can help you find them. At 18 and with his history, he will qualify for an IEP via his local school district until he turns 22. You need to get him enrolled on paper in his local school and then have his placement at a therapeutic school. The district will pay for this placement.

A therapeutic high school is going to be his best chance. He will have academics and therapy and work with counselors who know he wants to graduate and will go above and beyond to ensure he gets credit and a diploma. They can even get him into local community colleges for dual enrollment at the age of 18 so he will earn credit in high school AND college simultaneously. He can graduate a lot sooner than he thinks, probably well within 2 years.

(About the GED: in some states, it's now the HISET. While it isn't extraordinarily hard to pass, it can negatively affect his income earning potential his entire life. He wants that diploma.)

From what you've described, your nephew is going to require a lot of support, possibly inpatient care and a very clear roadmap to adulthood. Right now, he has no interest in doing any of this work and I'm not sure you can force him to make healthy decisions. You can offer this plan, and this will not be easy for any of you, but it can help turn him around. It will become at the very least a part time job for you and your husband, and that' s not something you may want to take on, but the resources are there for him to get ahead in life.**

**As I'm writing this, I'm actually looking at my almost 18 year old son who (knocking wood) has been able to get help as needed throughout his life. But he's still a little kid in a lot of ways. If everything had fallen apart for him, I would hope someone in the family would offer him a lifeline.
posted by sweetie_darling at 5:10 AM on December 30, 2015 [23 favorites]


**Wanted to add, as he is 18 years old, you are going to want to get guardianship. This will be pretty easy, based on his history. You file papers in court, have a court date and the judge gives you guardianship.
posted by sweetie_darling at 5:12 AM on December 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


"Live up to our standards (that are totally unreasonable for someone suffering serious mental illness) or we send you back to your abusive mother" is also abusive, and not really the sort of thing that helps with recovery.

This young man needs a place to live where people are committed to his health and recovery, and not threatening or abusing him. It does not sound like that is what you're interested in providing. There needs to be a responsible adult interfacing with his treatment team to help him find appropriate treatment and housing, not abusive grandma, abusive mom, and aunt-who-seems-to-want-a-totally-different-child bickering over who HAS to take him while literally none of them know the FIRST THING about his mental health needs. (Or, if mom knows, has no intention of following through.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:16 AM on December 30, 2015 [61 favorites]


Oh yeah...if you can't 100% up front commit to this as a MINIMUM TWO YEAR COMMITMENT, then don't do it.*

*But again, I'm looking at my own kid right now who is a few months shy of 18. And dammit, he's about as adult as my cat. I would really hope someone would help him if something like this happened.
posted by sweetie_darling at 5:19 AM on December 30, 2015 [9 favorites]


Your nephew has more issues than the National Geographic, you and your husband are clearly ill-equipped to deal with them.

Unless you greatly lower your expectations, you need to have a different plan.

If he were mentally stabile and his depression under control, I would second the Job Corps recommendation. Discuss it with him and see how he reacts. He might really get into the idea. It may not be right for today, but it might be right for the future.

If you still want to offer him a home, have him be your housekeeper. Having chores will build his self-esteem and give him a feeling of contribution. Give him some GED books to review, demystify the idea for him. Put NO pressure on him about it, it's 'for the future.' He needs to be in therapy and perhaps even occupational therapy.

There's no shame in saying, "this kid is sicker than I thought and I'm not able to give him what he needs." Perhaps, as an independent, young adult, he might qualify for benefits through the government that can get him the help that he needs and maybe your role in this is to help him get what he needs.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:28 AM on December 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


Agree that there is no shame in realising these problems are not ones you can really help with. The people I know who've managed to cope with anything near such a fostering/adoption challenge as this, and enjoyed/succeeded at some of it, have been through the process of parenting other children first who don't have any major problems (and even that's a hell of a tough job).
posted by colie at 5:37 AM on December 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Seconding contacting NAMI. See if they have support groups in your area. They generally have support groups for families dealing with mental illness as well as for patients. If you do this, you will need all the help you can get.

The problem with depression is that it's easy to look at it from the outside and think that the individual who is suffering can just get it together if he really wants to. Nothing is further from the truth. Encouraging structure is good, but there are going to be setbacks. Also, see if he will give his therapist permission to talk to you about how best to help him. Do not go this alone.

Good luck to you.
posted by FencingGal at 5:51 AM on December 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


Some people have told you not even to try this. But I think you might be able to, if you throw yourself into it 100% and make a proper commitment. This child doesn't sound like he has anyone else. You could be that person, if you loved him unconditionally and committed to looking after him properly, without expectation that he'll 'give back' to you soon or maybe ever. I agree that you don't sound like you have the skills right now. But you can learn them. You just need the humility to accept that you're starting from very little.

Please listen to everyone here who's telling you how ill this child is. Stop setting ultimatums and start reading up about depression and what it is and how crippling it can be. A lot of your question reads like this baffled person saying 'I am looking after my friend who has a cold and don't understand why he keeps blowing his nose'. Depressed people often don't have scintillating, or any, conversation, struggle to socialise, can't set goals for themselves and don't do much housework or send Christmas cards. The problem he has is not a lack of boundaries, expectations or whatever. The problem he has is a potentially fatal mental illness that will take a really long time to recover from. He's going to have to relearn a lot of things, and probably learn even more things from scratch - how to make friends, how to set up social activities, how to get into a proper routine, how to set basic intentions and then fulfil them (not as in career goals, as in 'I am going to go outside today' goals). You can help him with that but you're going to have to be incredibly patient and incredibly well-informed and really give yourself over to it.

Or you could walk away. You could do that. It would be better than your current plan, which could easily end up with him dead, no joke. Please give serious thought to whether this is a thing you can do. My 2p: I think if you could, you should. You've already suggested it repeatedly, and if you reject this kid now that's going to be pretty brutal. Not as brutal as if it happened after six months of living with him, but still.
posted by Acheman at 5:56 AM on December 30, 2015 [17 favorites]


We have been through this kind of situation in my family. I think the insight I can give you is that you are not dealing with a young man who is failing. You are dealing with a person who has not been given essential tools and skills to grow and thrive. What kind of parenting is it to take your kid out of school and not bother to follow up on online school, not teach your kid to drive, plus all the abusive stuff?!

His silence, gaming, etc., is him basically shutting down the outside of life in order to preserve something on the inside. I have had nephews and a niece in this kind of situation and of course every family will be different. But the first thing to know, really, is that this is not yet about his failings; it's his family history. If you take this on, I would think of it like he's trapped in a mine, you're on the outside, and together with him you are digging him out. But he can't see what is on the outside; he's in a darkness that has been created for him. Yes, this comes across as rudeness or apathy. You won't know the person beneath for a few years.

I think you have to pick one thing. It's almost January so I would either pick school -- a high school program for dropouts would probably be ideal; you need teachers involved, not self-taught modules IMO -- or chores or a job, but not all three. I wouldn't make it a condition of staying. I think college is incredibly unrealistic. I would be really explicit with him that he has had such a hard road that he needs some time to focus on one part of growing up, and also contribute to your collective future in some way, because that's what real adults do. I would also tell him that as a group the three of you will evaluate how things are working out every six months, and I think to give this kid some stability you need to essentially commit in 6 month chunks, barring violence or drugs or otherwise egregious acts.

I would also be careful about your husband and your narrative here. One of you grew up in the prior generation and will have family buttons to get pressed here. You both seem to have a very "buck up" bootstrap way of thinking, which isn't a bad thing necessarily but may not apply to an 18 year old whose family has had crazy weird expectations about getting a job and self-educating while being abused. Frame this as a gift, not a project. Your nephew will hopefully launch. If not, at some 6 month period you'll find alternatives.

For having kids, I wouldn't worry that much. My niece and nephews are amazing gifts in my kids' lives, they love them fiercely. If it doesn't work with a baby (who cannot be influenced by a gaming layabout; in fact you put a moby wrap on a gamer and you have an awesome baby holder while you have a shower) then you can deal with it then.

That said, if you can't handle it, you can't. That's ok.

My elder nephew and niece are struggling in minimum wage jobs and their first apartment but they are pretty rad human beings. They are neither amazing success stories not cautionary tales; they are people growing up as best they can.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:59 AM on December 30, 2015 [21 favorites]


What strikes me is that your family - and his family - are super blamey and terrible (at least terrible toward him). You've learned to be a better and more sympathetic person, but you're still coming from a family where your mother thinks it's fine to shame a kid who is in the hospital after a suicide attempt. That's the emotional structure that you've learned.

I know from experience that if you grow up in a situation with a lot of blame and shaming and you try to change, your norms will still be skewed - they'll be healthier but not healthy. So you're in this situation where you are decent toward this child and are capable of seeing him as ill and in need, which is amazing and he's lucky to have someone in his corner - but, as other people are pointing out, your expectations for him are still skewed.

I'm sure it feels very, very natural to worry about someone moving in with a video game habit, no job and no GED. That would worry me, and I've had some pretty bad housemates. If this were about an adult without a suicide attempt, you'd be absolutely right. But what I'm saying is that your upbringing makes it harder for you to trust your instincts in this situation.
posted by Frowner at 6:07 AM on December 30, 2015 [40 favorites]


I don't think its a good idea for you to take your nephew in. You're not coming into a situation; you've been in it for years and the baggage is too much for you to overcome as quickly as you'd need to based on the timeline you've given.

It is totally fine that you're in a place to take him in. Don't feel guilty about that, but your life isn't a good match for what he needs and it will only end up hurting you, him and your husband.

What I suggest you do is help him find resources. He's not going to be able to do that alone at this point and it doesn't sound like your family will be much help. There's many ways you can support him and finding one that will actually work will be better for him in the long run than taking him in and kicking him out a few months later. The suggestions up-thread about NAMI, therapeutic high schools, GED programs are all amazing places to start.

Don't create a situation where he's going to fail; instead be a support that can help him succeed.
posted by GilvearSt at 6:18 AM on December 30, 2015


Look I know you mean well and think you're doing a good thing by ~opening up your home to a kid in need~ but unless you seriously re-evaluate your parenting approach and expectations you're just going to make this kid feel even worse. He doesn't need tough love, he doesn't need another set of people saying "we'll feed and clothe and home you IF you don't act like you're struggling", and he certainly doesn't need you to set arbitrary time limits on him having SOMEWHERE TO LIVE. Do you really think the threat of homelessness is going to suddenly make his depression better or easier to manage? No wonder he's not talking to you, you're not a much better option than his mother.

You say you want to start your own family and act like this kid could ruin it all. What's your plan if one of your precious biological kids ends up disabled or mentally ill? Will you also threaten to kick them out if they don't meet your criteria of acceptable level of functioning within X days? Your expectations are absurd and harmful and you should do some serious examining of your parenting before having any kids.

Look I know I sound harsh but you sound like my mother. She desperately wanted a normal family which meant everyone hitting their milestones within 1-2 years of the ideal movie family schedule regardless of what life threw at us. I've been suicidal since I was 12 and she frequently tried to threaten me with homelessness to motivate me (spoiler: didn't work). I'm now disabled and unable to work due to the PTSD that gave me. Don't add to his problems. If you can't be a healthy supportive home for him then find another solution where he won't feel like burdensome garbage, because that's how you're acting and I'm certain he can feel your disdain.
posted by buteo at 6:38 AM on December 30, 2015 [19 favorites]


The reason he seemed healthier in the clinic after his suicide attempt is that he was probably given a cocktail of drugs to stabilize/soothe him. Is he medicated usually?

It takes years, like a few at least, for people to reach a livable normal when they start from the circumstances you are describing. I recognize the family dynamic you are talking about with the absent parent and the over present controlling grandparent.

Gently, I'd suggest that cramming this kid who is struggling with illness into parameters that you consider healthy is going to make him sicker. He cannot be structured into health, at least not quickly. It is going to take a long time, it is going to be painful for him and for those around him, and at times it will be thankless for anyone trying to help.

You are thinking in sprint terms. You need to think in marathon terms. Under what circumstances can you make yourself the most available, with the most compassion, for the longest amount of time? What would that look like for you and your family?

Good luck.
posted by skrozidile at 6:38 AM on December 30, 2015 [12 favorites]


I spent all night crying over a dear friend who just committed suicide, leaving behind a wife and very young children. Trust me, you don't want to feel what I'm feeling now.

If he were capable of doing the things you were asking him to do, he'd be an extraordinarily capable teenager and wouldn't need your help. He needs an advocate and a champion, not judgement and shame.

Does his psychiatrist know the meds aren't helping? Is someone actively coordinating his care? Have you sought support for yourself to help you through this process?
posted by snickerdoodle at 6:41 AM on December 30, 2015 [12 favorites]


Your mom sounds like she has done a real job on you and your sister, and now your nephew. I am concerned that despite your good intentions you simply don't have the resources to deal with your nephew's major issues. He actually sounds like a candidate for an in-patient programme that will give him stability and allow you to visit him as a loving aunt without taking on more responsibility than you can measure. I'm sorry, this is a really awful situation for everyone involved.
posted by saucysault at 6:44 AM on December 30, 2015 [22 favorites]


"He wouldn't talk to anyone at Christmas. After the movies/dinners and Christmas, my husband said that if my nephew acts like that (no talking) when he lives here, he won't be living here for long."

If this is your husband's attitude, I see little hope of this working out (and I wonder how he'll cope when your own children become adolescents - even emotionally healthy adolescents go through periods when they won't talk). I know this is only one statement by your husband, who may otherwise be a great guy, but this is a red flag for me in terms of taking on this kind of challenge. This child does not need someone else who is going to reject him because of his illness.
posted by FencingGal at 6:44 AM on December 30, 2015 [36 favorites]


Supporting him is going to be a full-time job for someone, at first. If either you or your husband can't take lots of time off from work at the drop of a hat, you aren't the right people to sign up for the role of helping him. It could be better for you to take a loving role in his life, but not be his full-tine, on-call caregiver.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:59 AM on December 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


I've been thinking about this question all evening. I really feel for this kid. re: the not talking - this actually makes me smile because that's like nearly ever teenage boy I've known! My little brother could talk a person to death but even he went through a grunty/no talking teen stage. And I'm sure it's just a random example but in my experience guys don't send Christmas cards at all. Their mums do and add their name and then there's a decade or so of nothing after they leave home and then their wives send the cards (heh, see the emotional labour thread).

You're quite young yourselves and taking in a kid his age is a huge job, even under the best of circumstances. If it's not the right thing for your family to have him live with you that's fine. But please don't judge him for being unable to deal effectively with the mess that is his life and please keep loving and wanting to be there for him and include him in your lives even when he's not the greatest houseguest. Your kids will be raised in a different home environment to what he knew and a connection to them could be a wonderful thing for him. Someone up thread mentioned a baby holder and that made me smile. Interacting with an infant could be wonderful for him, someone to love who has no expectations of him and has such simple joys (your pets might be good for him too). If you can't provide a home I hope you can keep him in your life.
posted by kitten magic at 7:16 AM on December 30, 2015 [13 favorites]


Nthing that you only do this if you a. drop these unrealistic expectations and see him as someone with a serious illness that needs help recovering and b. do therapy yourself (with and/or without him).

I get where you're coming from; my family had a very similar situation and very similar reactions. But you can't shame someone into fixing themselves mentally. In the end, my niece only suffered more and spiraled further down when the family piled on her. I fully expect to hear someday that she's dead; barring a miracle, that's all that's ahead of her now. She was sent to therapists and rehab, but at the same time the stuff that helped make her sick kept happening, and the family kept blaming her for it. I never had any real opportunity to help her, I was too young. But I probably would have fucked it up if I had, because we treat mental illness in my family as something scary and shameful and it's taken a long time for me to learn better.

Mostly, if you care about this kid, you have to drop the assumption you have, deep down, that his depression is voluntary or lazy or irresponsible or whatever you want to call it on his part. No one who's in the spot he's in wants to be there.
posted by emjaybee at 7:25 AM on December 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


Nthing that it's probably best that your nephew live elsewhere, with people who are able to give him the support he desperately needs. He's endured a lifetime of abuse and tried to commit suicide only two months ago and you're thinking that issuing a stack of "my way or the highway" ultimatums is the right way to go? Oh hell no, sister. You are not the right people for him to be living with if your goal is for him to actually survive this and grow into a functional person.
posted by palomar at 7:38 AM on December 30, 2015 [10 favorites]


My nephew's had a rough life: emotional abuse from my mom, alcoholism/fighting/multiple boyfriends from his mom, and a dad who has never been in the picture. When he tried to commit suicide, his mom never came to the hospital and only went to the behavioral health hospital once. My mom went to the ER with us, but spent the whole time shaming and blaming him.

This kid is going through a hell of a bad time, a time where getting out of bed is a major achievement, and you're expecting him to suddenly have his shit together?

Don't do this. Not because you can't, but because your expectations of what he is capable of are seriously flawed.

If you can re-align your expectations to require actually reasonable goals--start with e.g. 'you need to clean your room once a week, and take out the garbage on Tuesdays'--then give this a shot. Otherwise, as someone upthread said, you're expecting someone who has been in a horrific car accident to start walking because you think they should.

Sorry to sound harsh but I've had depression all my life, multiple suicide attempts, and there are still days when even the smallest things are huge achievements, and you're just not getting why he is the way he is right now. Your heart's in the right place, yes, and you're going to make things worse for him, not better, if you don't realign your worldview to understand him.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:41 AM on December 30, 2015 [20 favorites]


Your expectations for this young man are neither compassionate nor realistic. I think it would harm him more to live with you given your attitudes about him and his illness at this time. You don't sound able to provide a safe or loving environment and that will do more damage to someone who is already struggling so much that it would be better if you declined so he can seek refuge elsewhere. Please reconsider your belief that shame is an effective means of helping people with mental illnesses recover from suicide attempts and depression.
posted by Hermione Granger at 7:43 AM on December 30, 2015 [15 favorites]


I was you and I did what you are thinking about doing. I strongly recommend you don't do this. You are not qualified to help and trying to help won't just hurt your nephew; it will hurt you, too.

This kid needs professional help you are not qualified to give.
posted by winna at 7:48 AM on December 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


P.S. I'm sure a lot of this is hard to hear, but I'm so glad, for the sake of everyone involved, that you thought to ask.
posted by listen, lady at 7:54 AM on December 30, 2015 [38 favorites]


It sounds like you are willing to offer him a roof over his head, but you are not willing to take care of him.

And that's perfectly okay. You are mid-twenties, still learning to take care of yourselves and now learning to take care of a spouse, and soon you will be learning to take care of babies, which is tough enough. Taking care of an "uncooperative" person with serious health issues is a major task. It's not an easy thing, and adults twice your age and with significantly more life experience struggle with care-taking roles.

I think it's wonderful that you can see some of the issues your nephew has and that you are willing to step in when it appears no one else will, but truthfully your nephew needs a lot more than a job and/or a GED. He needs unconditional love. He is a baby at life, not a fully-functioning near-adult. He needs professional help, a lot of it, and you are not equipped with those skills or knowledge. No one is in your situation.

When I was in a similar situation as your nephew I resented the hell out of people who gave me the messages that you are sending your nephew and I broke all contact with them for years. It was only after I'd received years of therapy that I realized how ill-equipped those well-meaning people were, and how my expectations of them and the support I felt they should have been providing to me had been way to high, just as their expectations of me had been. Maybe 15 years on I was much more stable mentally, and finally able to forgive those people. Perhaps they've forgiven me as well, but I don't think they've forgotten.

It would be great if you could work with your nephew's therapist to maybe find him an in-patient situation, a group home, somewhere where he can feel like he can just crash for a while while working on his mental state, and where the people surrounding him are professionally trained to help him. Perhaps after that he could come and stay with you for a while. In the meantime you could try to familiarize yourself with his condition, and how best to support him.

You all are in a tough spot and I really want to commend you for even saying he can stay with you, since clearly not too many people in his life have offered him much help. I wish you all the best of luck.
posted by vignettist at 8:01 AM on December 30, 2015 [17 favorites]


You need to accept that this is about to be a massive and life altering undertaking or not do it.

I was a fucked up teen. A lot, and I mean a lot of people offered help, but an aunt and uncle stepped up and actually helped. It was hard. Like horrible, aweful, hard. I don't think I could do it in their place. I was terrible to them, I was depressed, suicidal, violent, messy, unhelpful, spiteful, ungrateful and misguided.

I made their life hell and they saved my life.

Fucked up teens are not roommates. They are children. You are about to become the parents of a very troubled kid. If you can't do that, don't do it.
posted by French Fry at 8:01 AM on December 30, 2015 [52 favorites]


He has two broken legs and you're asking him to walk in a month, and if he's not walking, he "won't be living here long". I can predict where this leads. Another suicide attempt.

I'm not trying to pile on here but this is how my cousin died, at age 26. He had serious mental illness and people pressured him to grow up, get his GED, get a job, etc. Then told him he was worthless because he literally couldn't function as an adult. It wasn't the fault of any one person, and his suicide would not be on your hands, but everyone with this attitude made him worse. Please, please don't do this until you're able to 100% support him completely wherever he's at.
posted by desjardins at 8:07 AM on December 30, 2015 [25 favorites]


you're 8 weeks away from narrowly missing your nephew's funeral and you're concerned about how talkative he is and his fallout level? he will not be safe in your home. he needs to be in a place where people understand his disease and can help him survive and hopefully one day thrive. the kind aunt thing you can do is help him find that place. i would also recommend you and your husband go into couples counseling to prepare yourselves for parenthood. i don't say this to blame you or make you feel bad, but it seems clear you're still carrying baggage from your dysfunctional and abusive upbringing and having a counselor who can talk through those things with you guys will help your own immediate family create and maintain a happy home.
posted by nadawi at 8:14 AM on December 30, 2015 [25 favorites]


Whew. There's a lot going on here.

First, you need to acknowledge that you too are a survivor of abuse and that may be coloring your perception of his illness. Often survivors of similar situations (especially those from the same family) view the reactions of other survivors unfavorably. You clearly see yourself as having survived 'successfully' - you're proud of your job, your marriage, of wanting to start a family and of being able to offer him a stable home. It's equally clear that you see your nephew's survival as 'unsuccessful' - you're openly critical of his suicide attempt, depression, withdraw and (frankly) inability to cope exactly how you have coped and accomplish what you've accomplished. If you're going to take him in, you need to deal with this right away. Depression is not his fault. Suicide is not his fault. His inability to react as you have reacted is not his fault. You should consider therapy for yourself to sort through these issues and make certain you're not perpetuating your family cycle of abuse.

sweetie_darling has the best advice for moving forward. A therapeutic/alternative high school will offer him the support and structure he needs from people who are qualified to provide it, while at the same time helping him work toward reasonable goals. You are not qualified to decide what those goals are, what time frame he should achieve them in or what he needs to accomplish to 'get better'.

What you are qualified for, hopefully, is to provide him with a stable, loving home. And if you aren't, then it's better to acknowledge that and instead provide support for your mother/sister - in the form of doing research on mental health, available schools, outpatient programs, support groups, etc. Nami is a good place to start. So is contacting your local school district, consulting with your nephew's therapist on available resources, and simple material support. Honestly - I hope you can and will help him. Because it doesn't seem like anyone else is.
posted by givennamesurname at 8:17 AM on December 30, 2015 [15 favorites]


Hey, I just wanted to come back in and say not to feel too terribly if some of this feedback feels harsh. Your instinct to take your nephew away from his environment, and your being there for him when he was in the hospital, both speak really well of you. It's just that depression is a thing most people don't understand at all without experience, even if they are certain they do, and it's painful for people who have been through it to imagine someone being subjected to tough love when they're barely tough enough to stay alive.

I wish the best for all of you, and I hope that whatever you choose to do, you can make it clear to your nephew how much you care about him, no matter how good he is at life.
posted by egg drop at 8:18 AM on December 30, 2015 [62 favorites]


You are a good family member, even if you decide you can't take him in. You can help by being a stabilizing force in his life even if he doesn't live with you.
posted by samthemander at 9:02 AM on December 30, 2015 [17 favorites]


I haven't read all of the other comments but I agree that your expectations of your nephew are harsh and severely out of alignment with reality. He's a kid who tried to commit suicide very recently and you're upset that he doesn't talk enough?

I may be projecting but you and your husband sound like you have never personally experienced depression in your lives. To get to the point in depression where you make a serious attempt to end your life means you are in an extraordinary and prolonged agony. For comparison, I am quite depressed and cry almost every day, but I am nowhere near wanting to kill myself. Your nephew is in even more pain than that. To expect him to get a job or a GED right away when he doesn't even feel like he has a reason to get out of bed in the morning is absolutely bonkers.

If you take him in and then throw him out later because he doesn't talk enough, or some other ridiculous reason that indicates a profound lack of understanding of mental illness, you are going to further reinforce his belief that no one cares if he lives or dies.
posted by a strong female character at 9:14 AM on December 30, 2015 [15 favorites]


I know AskMe can feel like a pile-on in situations like this, so I first want to say that I really do appreciate you wanting to and trying to help your nephew. You are trying to do better for him than his immediate family, and I am thankful he has that.


tried to commit suicide two months ago, right before his birthday

You write later, not even a .99 cent Christmas card. Because that is a thing normal people (generally) do. They celebrate things like Christmas, and send people Christmas cards.

It was his birthday. He wasn't looking forward to celebrating his birthday. Not even for his 18th — a major milestone in your country too I think? He wasn't expecting for himself even a .99 cent birthday card.

He tried to end his existence on the planet.

The most fundamental drive of human existence is to survive. People do all kinds of desperate and horrific things just to stay alive. Something took even that most fundamental drive away from him.

So why won't he mow the lawn in the summer?

Do you see the absurdity?


He hasn't gone to school for several years. Do you see the crucial development that means he must have missed out on? The peer support and community? Does he have friends? Boy/girlfriend? You didn't mention, but I don't get the impression he does from what you said. Where is his community? (Might the games be that community for him at the moment — or a distraction from not having that community?)

He is likely very behind both academically and in general life skills and knowledge. Is he intimidated or scared? Does it all feel overwhelming?

You say things like He also doesn't have a driver's license or a car, in a town with absolutely zero public transportation of any kind. He doesn't want to walk anywhere.... But when you were 18, didn't you want to learn to drive or go places? Did you want to because you were a responsible, hard-working person who wanted to travel to jobs — or because you wanted to stretch your wings, be independent, go places, live a life that you can control?

Why doesn't he? Or a better question might be: if he were healthy enough to be taking on the things you think he should be taking on, why wouldn't he?


Whenever my parents or his mom tell him he needs to get a job and/or his GED, he says he needs to ask his therapist for permission to do that. (I've heard this second-hand.)

If someone has been seriously ill, isn't asking their doctor if they are ready to take on work exactly the right thing to do?


He won't talk. It's impossible to have a conversation with him. He wouldn't talk to anyone at Christmas.

He tried to end his existence two months ago.


He's been on medication and in therapy since his attempt
...
but we've seen NOTHING from him: no engagement, no effort


Again, do you see the absurdity?

Have you ever been in therapy? Do you know how much work, how much engagement that takes? Do you know what medication he is on, the trial-and-error of mental health medications, how little even the medical experts know, all the possible side effects?

but I have seen no change in his behavior

This is not how mental health medication and therapy works. You don't put something in and expect something to come out. We don't have that knowledge yet.


The most he talked to me is when I visited him at the behavioral health hospital, and we had an hour and a half discussion about life and his future, and I swear he seemed more healthy and bright then than he does now at all

But doesn't it make perfect sense, that he was brighter and healthier and more able to engage with you when he was in a place where he was actually getting the care he needs?


Do you know why he tried to end his life? Does he still want to? It's not a thing that just resolves itself. Has what made him decide to end his life been resolved? (Isn't it strange — I say this as a genuine, non-sarcastic question to you — that you didn't mention this in the question at all?)

You say he's not talking to you, but doesn't talking about something so personal and vulnerable — what could be more personal and vulnerable? — take trust? Doesn't that take time — and people who don't think so little of him to think he would be wilfully refusing to talk?

The things you want for him, things like education, job, responsibilities and independence — he does very much need those things. But he doesn't need them because if he doesn't have those things, you're going to kick him out; he needs them because it's just going to get harder and harder for him: gaps in job history, lack of qualifications, atrophy in social skills, lack of common shared life experiences with his peers... all those things pile up and get harder over time for him. You don't need to tough love him, because life is already tough love. (Or just the tough part.)

You can help him see that, and help him see what he needs to do to make it easier for himself — but only when his future is not so hopeless to him that he tried to end his life two months ago. If he sees no hope in his future, of course none of those things matter to him — do you see that? It's only when he has a future, that those things matter, and the rest can follow. Right now, does he?


No kids yet but we're actively trying.

Again, I want to reiterate that I really do appreciate that you care enough to want to help him, especially as you no doubt have busy lives of your own. But have you considered the combined stress from both your new child (your first?) and your nephew? Or are you expecting your nephew to be on best behaviour according to your standards? Because he likely won't be.

And given his upbringing in his immediate family, what might it bring up for him, to see you loving your own child inevitably more than him? Might it feel even lonelier for him, especially if your and your husband's current view of him doesn't change?

As kitten magic says, interacting with an infant could be wonderful for him too, but it could go either way. Unless you have a longstanding close relationship with him — and it doesn't sound like you currently do ‐ he would be essentially adjusting to a new foster family. That is hard in all kinds of ways.

If there are any therapeutic communities/schools for people his age, they may be most helpful for him, but those are not magic either (and not all are good). The best you can do for him may be to believe in his future and communicate that to him, and let him know that he can talk to you, and you can help him access resources/think through things, depending on what he wants to do — he likely has all kinds of questions and fears and uncertainties, even for anyone his age, but especially given his circumstances. And believe that he is always trying the best that he can, that he knows how — because why wouldn't he?

Will he actually have anywhere to live right now, if you don't take him in?
posted by catchingsignals at 9:24 AM on December 30, 2015 [38 favorites]


I'm driving him to therapy tomorrow, and I'm planning on telling him that if he's not working by the end of January, then he's moving with his mom. Is this the right thing to do?

No. It's hard enough to get a job, especially in his circumstances (no car, no diploma) without depression.

Are we being too hard on him? Should special consideration be made for his mental health?

Yes, and yes. That's the whole point: he was deathly ill, and he is still recovering. He tried to kill himself. He needs time to come back to himself, to build himself back up. He needs more consideration than you're currently giving him.
posted by RainyJay at 9:25 AM on December 30, 2015 [8 favorites]


sweetie_darling has the best advice for moving forward. A therapeutic/alternative high school will offer him the support and structure he needs from people who are qualified to provide it, while at the same time helping him work toward reasonable goals. You are not qualified to decide what those goals are, what time frame he should achieve them in or what he needs to accomplish to 'get better'.

actually, at this point, i'd say no one here has the best advice for this kid's treatment. ask his therapist and his treatment team. assemble one if he doesn't have one.
posted by listen, lady at 9:43 AM on December 30, 2015 [16 favorites]


One thing I find myself wondering: what is really going to happen if he doesn't live with you?

Everyone is saying that a residential program, a treatment team, a supportive high school and so on are better than living with you. Can he access these things? They cost money. They're not available everywhere. They will probably require parental buy-in. Where is he going to live while he goes to the supportive GED program? Will his parents be able to negotiate payment for a residential program? Who is going to assemble his care team? Are you?

What is the risk if he lives with his mother and nothing changes? Why does he want to live with you?

What I'm worried about is that maybe you're the best of a bad series of options. If that's the case - if his home is so terrible, and there's no money for anything else - then I think you need to take all this into account, work on understanding your nephew and rise to the occasion.

If that's not the case, I think it's perfectly reasonable to seek other options or to accept that he should continue to live at home with his mother.

I have not cared for a mentally ill relative. I have taken people into my house a couple of times when I wasn't sure if it was the best idea, because it was the least-worst option. I think what you're facing is harder by quite a lot; I acknowledge that. But what I felt in those moments where I made these decisions was that sometimes someone just has to put their foot down and say that a situation has to stop, even if it's at some personal cost and even if it's not ideal.

It seems clear that the best option is for you to help his family access better care for him - you should definitely do that if at all possible. If that's not possible and you also think that his outcomes at his family's home will be markedly worse, don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
posted by Frowner at 10:09 AM on December 30, 2015 [24 favorites]


This is a massively traumatized kid, and it sounds like he's still being traumatized (emotional neglect, at the very least) by his mother. This isn't even a two-months-out of trauma situation; the trauma is still happening. Trauma affects the brain, and basically short-circuits anyone's ability to respond well to the standard cause-and-effect limit-setting and boundaries and structure that would work with non-traumatized brains. Trauma causes the amygdala to get stuck in flight-fight-freeze mode that's all about How do I survive right now? and cannot -- literally, physically, cannot -- form long-term goals or learn from natural consequences. Treating trauma with "tough love" is completely inappropriate. Even after the trauma has ended, it generally takes six months to a year in a totally trauma-free environment for the brain to reset itself enough for boundary-setting to start working as intended (and any traumas, even minor, can restart that clock). You might want to read about trauma and brain development to get a better idea of what your nephew is dealing with, and what interventions may be inappropriate. (And that's not even getting into the depression and suicidality, which others have covered above.)

And as others have said, working with his treatment team -- and following their recommendations -- would be absolutely critical here. If you can't, or you and your partner are not willing to, you need to rethink this.
posted by jaguar at 10:10 AM on December 30, 2015 [23 favorites]


Your nephew sounds like me and my brother when we were 18. Our parents were emotionally and physically abusive, and our house was a filthy mess. It never really occurred to me that dishes should be washed regularly or that the bins should be taken in after trash day. In our chaotic household, there were no such things as chores, and the adults didn't model responsible behavior.

Today, I run a successful small business, have been with my partner for 18 years and have a wide variety of friends and interests. If you had told me, when I was a suicidal 18-year-old, that I'd someday be a happy, well-adjusted adult, I would never have believed you. I didn't see happy or well adjusted when I was a kid; I truly thought it was a fictional state that, like superpowers and vampirism, existed only in movies or on TV.

My brother still lives at home with my mom. He's almost 40, and he makes a minimum-wage living as a walking courier. I'm pretty sure he's an alcoholic; his face is all red and last time I visited home, I found a fifth of cheap gin hidden in the basement. He's bitter and angry and has never had a real relationship.

The difference is that a friend and his mom took me in for about six or seven months after my mother kicked me out of the house. I got to live with normal, healthy people who modeled the sort of behavior and habits that don't make you depressed and suicidal. I didn't magically get better all at once; it took YEARS of therapy and hard work on my part, but it was a start. It terrifies me to imagine my life today if they hadn't given me that gift.

That doesn't mean that you are obligated to do this for your nephew, of course. But if you do decide to take him in, the good that you do may not look like immediate measurable change or successful, steady employment. At first, it may just be showing him that change is possible, or giving him the opportunity to make mistakes away from people who will use those mistakes as weapons for further humiliation.
posted by sleepy psychonaut at 10:19 AM on December 30, 2015 [38 favorites]


Just something to keep in mind: Another reason he may have seemed better at the hospital is that he was away from his mother. His meds may in fact be working as intended.
posted by jaguar at 10:23 AM on December 30, 2015 [10 favorites]


This is crazy trauma town. If you can find it in your heart to have a freeloader in your life, you could be literally saving his. Even if all you can do is provide a safe place with regular meals and no pressure, that could be huge.

My aunt was proud of me on days I stayed in bed - "I am so proud of you for taking care of yourself." She was proud of me when I put on clothes. When I brushed my teeth. When I ate something besides a protein shake, even if I wasn't the one that cooked it. She sat with me and didn't talk. Just sat.

And it was the first time in my life that I got unconditional love. It's making me cry while I write this. She had her own issues, and she didn't try to cover them up. We were both just doing the best we could. Ans when she screwed up, she apologized. Eventually, when I screwed up, I also apologized.

You don't have to be perfect to be better than the hell that is his life. Just be proud of him for being alive. Be proud of him for making it. Assume you don't know even the 50th worst thing that's happened to him, and have your heart break that he has had to figure out a way through. You absolutely can be the person he needs.
posted by stoneweaver at 10:45 AM on December 30, 2015 [74 favorites]


You can confirm this in your jurisdiction, but your nephew likely is entitled to a variety of governments benefits that could help him focus on the steps he can take to become a more independent and functioning adult.

Some of this sounds like an information management challenge, but there is help.

this GED, which he argues will take "years" to get.

If this is related to a learning disability, figuring that out could help develop a more focused plan of action. Documentation may exist at his original high school, and his inability to complete online high school may be additional evidence. Figuring out the available benefits and coordinating the supporting documentation can take time, and it doesn't sound like something your nephew can currently handle on his own.

As an educator, I think high expectations can be great, but only if the tools and resources are available to actually meet them. I don't know what the answer is for your specific situation, but if you can help your nephew find the tools and resources, it could help his recovery process.

He also doesn't have a driver's license or a car, in a town with absolutely zero public transportation of any kind.

How about a bicycle? Learning how to drive, taking the driving test, and getting a first car could all be life-changing events for your nephew, and help support his independence, but in the meantime, even a small measure of independence could be helpful.
posted by Little Dawn at 11:13 AM on December 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


Hi OP. I have a younger brother with severe depression issues. For family reasons I am his primary day-to-day caretaker (though not wholly financially). I also have two young kids and a career so I understand where you are coming from - it's hard work to succeed and you want everyone with you to be working on those same goals with you, so that you can all flourish.

But.

This is a baby who is suffering. Who has survived unimaginable pain and that only barely. A little boy who desperately needs medical help and love just to stay alive.

In the future, having those expectations is OK - you will work on them together. We expect my brother to work as he can. We don't expect school or full-time work or independently living, because he's not ready yet. But he is working on it and we both help him bold himself accountable and take care of him when he falls.

Your nephew is nowhere near ready for that.

Imagine right now that you suddenly got lost at sea. Your needs are immediate and life-threatening. Water, shelter, food. Sheer survival. And you have to figure out how all on your own. Nothing, not one thing, is easy.

Now imagine someone floated by your shipwrecked island and said hey! Your phone bill is totally overdue, you know. And have you been getting enough cardio? I can't find where you left your deductions folder for taxes in April. Also didn't you say you wanted to learn a new language, where are you on that? Not even one noun? Don't you realize how far you're falling behind??

Think how hard you'd laugh and how angry you'd be. Those are ridiculous things. Those are concerns so far beyond you you don't even care about them. Tax deductions?? You just need a cup of clean water!

This is where your nephew is now. He doesn't have the bandwidth to think about a GED or job or DL. It's just another symbol of how much he has failed, how worthless people think he is, how he'll never get off this island.

Right now he needs a life-preserver. He needs food and shelter. He needs to know its ok. He needs to know he is loved and matters and is a beautiful human being. He needs to know someday he is getting off that goddamned island and you are going to help and be there for him while he does it no matter how hard it is or how long it takes or how impossible it seems, he will be rescued.

That's a big job. It's OK if you can't do that right now. It's important NOT to do it if you can't understand where he is and what he needs. It's important, if you do, to talk to his therapist and find out what he needs and make a plan and support him and let him just breathe for awhile. And then help him start to make a dinner. And then help him look at schools. And then let him just breathe again. And and and.

I know you must love him and thank you for even considering taking him in. He sounds like a lovely boy and I wish you both the best. But please, do not add danger and loathing to his life. Please only take him in if you understand what it'll take and are ready for it. It's hard. But I can promise too, it's worth it, just like it will be for your babies, when you see him able to smile.
posted by blue_and_bronze at 11:24 AM on December 30, 2015 [31 favorites]


Others have stressed the metaphor with his legs being broken, and I believe that is a very good metaphor to use here. He's sick, and that is something you really, really need to keep in mind. But metaphors are always limited, and so I want to offer another one that maybe can help emphasize another aspect of your nephew's situation:

Being well-adjusted is a language you have to be taught. Or, to put it another way, being an adult, who can do well at school, get a job, take care of himself, make pleasant small-talk, and plan for the future is a language you have to be taught.

Now, we learn our native language naturally, just as part of being raised in a family where that language is spoken. We learn our native language so successfully and thoroughly that, often, we aren't even aware of it. It's so easy for us to understand our native language. I speak English natively: English grammar just makes sense to me intuitively, clearly, without effort. As I'm typing these words, I don't have to think at all about how to conjugate the verbs I'm using, etc. I can just do it, because people have been teaching me this language since the moment I was born.

Someone who grows up in a healthy household learns how to be well-adjusted like a native language. The sorts of things well-adjusted, healthy, successful people do just comes naturally. If you're raised in a household where you are taught regularly to shower and brush your teeth, for instance, you just instinctually, intuitively understand how to regularly shower and brush your teeth. If you're raised in a household where everyone has lots of friends and knows how to make small-talk with strangers and ask questions like "So, how's the weather out where you live?" or the like, then doing all of that comes naturally to you. If you live in a household where people care how you feel and want you to be happy, you learn how to care about yourself and reach towards happiness. It's the language you speak: the language of taking care of yourself, of handling your affairs, of interacting with others.

But what if you're raised in a household where no one speaks this language? You're not going to learn it. You'll learn a different language instead. If no one in your household leads you to shower regularly, you won't. If no one in your household even notices if you need a shower or not, you won't learn how to notice that, yourself. If no one in your household has friends, you won't know what it takes to keep a friendship. If your household never hosts many guests, if no one ever takes you to interact with strangers, you won't know the language of making small-talk, of asking questions, of forming friendships. If, rather than friendly kindness or love, your household contains cruelty, shifting standards, neglect, you learn the language of self-protection, of disengagement, of self-neglect.

So, your nephew has learned only one language in his life: the language of depression, the language of distrust, disengagement, self-neglect and self-hatred. This language fit his circumstances very well, during his childhood. That's the only language anyone has ever really spoken around him, and it's the only one he has ever been taught. But now that he's an adult, he desperately needs to learn a different language.

Suppose you are Russian, born and bred, so Russian is your native language. And suppose he is from an English-speaking country, and English is his native language. He has never been to Russia before. He's heard very slight snippets of Russian here and there, but he has never been in an environment where it is spoken. And now he has just stepped off the plane, landing in Russia for the very first time, and he's confused and disoriented, and you come up to him and say (in Russian): "Quick, come on, we're all in the middle of discussing Dostoevsky: what are your opinions of the thematic tensions in The Brothers Karamazov?"

In response, he just stares at you. Because he can't understand you.

But he hasn't responded, so you repeat the question. But he still can't understand. So now you're growing frustrated, so you repeat the question again, this time louder. But he still can't understand. Now you're shouting, "IF. YOU. CAN'T. HAVE. A. CONVERSATION. WHY DON'T YOU GET BACK ON THAT PLANE AND LEAVE, HUH?"

And now he's scared. He can just barely make out your meaning, given the tone of voice and gestures, but he doesn't know how to respond. He doesn't have a return ticket. He's here, staring at you, unable to comprehend, and you're yelling at him.

What your nephew needs is to learn a second language. That's something people can do. It is hard, though, especially when you're a full-grown adult. It is much harder to learn a second language as an adult than it is to learn your first language as a child. And he is just starting the process. He's at the point where what he needs is someone to point to objects and say their names, so he can repeat them back. He's at the point where he can barely understand the most basic verb conjugations, let alone how to construct a full sentence.

Think about getting a job--think about how many different things are involved in doing that. To get a job, you have to, at the bare minimum: ask for an application, fill out a job application (which means knowing all the information you need to provide, like your social security number and who can work as a contact), return the application, smile kindly when they take it, wait for a phone call, answer the phone call, handle the small talk during the phone call, know when you will be able to make it to an interview, buy appropriate clothing for an interview, take care of all hygiene before the interview, find transportation to the interview....and and and note how I haven't even made it to the actual interview in this description, but already writing out all the parts is leaving me exhausted.

Getting a job is like writing an honors thesis. This poor kid doesn't even know how to conjugate verbs yet, and you're getting frustrated that he isn't working on his honors thesis.

Now, let me get a little personal. I'm someone you would likely think is very successful. I have excelled at a lot of the things your nephew is struggling at: I have a graduate degree, and I have a full-time job I love. But your post was very triggering for me. Your question brought me to tears--not tears for you or your nephew, but the selfish sort of tears that come up when you're forced to relive deep pain. What did it was this:

not even a .99 cent Christmas card (EVER)

There, your words stabbed at me. I can completely understand how, from your perspective, this is such a simple thing to do, but from his/my perspective, this sort of gesture is near impossible. I wouldn't be able to do something like that--not now, where I'm pretty fluent at being a well-adjusted human, and not back when I was your nephew's age and just escaping a terribly neglectful home, and most definitely not if I were in your nephew's position, which your description makes sound much worse than the home I grew up in. Sending a Christmas card is goddamn hard. Here are all the things you have to be able to navigate, to do something like that:

--You have to know the person's address
--You have to go to a store to buy Christmas cards
--You need to go to a story to buy Christmas cards while actually having money for them
--You have to know when to do this (Christmas cards shouldn't arrive either too early or too late)
--You have to know how to decide among the different Christmas cards available
--You have to know what to write on the inside
--Scratch that, you have to know whether to write something on the inside or not, because not everyone does
--You have to have a pen, a good one, one you can write with
--You have to have stamps
--You have to know how to address the envelope and get it to the mail
--You have to know how to manage time, to coordinate all these different steps, so one follows after another
--You have to know how to weigh the significance of doing all of this, relative to the other things you must accomplish
--You have to know how to avoid hating yourself to the point of self-destruction if you do any one of these steps wrong
--You have to know how to avoid hating yourself to the point of self-destruction if you do any one of these less than perfectly
--You have to know how other people will not hate you if you do them wrong
--You have to know how other people will not hate you if you do them less than perfectly

Not one of those things looks all that difficult to you, no. You can probably figure out work arounds to avoid some of them ("He could just give it to me, rather than mailing it!" or the like). And the last few probably look so simple and obvious--of course someone shouldn't hate themselves if they put a stamp on an envelope wrong or the like! ...but what if you didn't know how to do a single goddamn one of them? What if every single one felt mysterious and strange--if every single one was a part of a foreign language you have never been taught? Add to that that you are exhausted and easily confused (depression involves physical symptoms like these, after all). Add to that that you know there are ten thousand other things you need to do but don't know how (like those required to get a job, a degree). Add to that that, the more you don't do these things, the people around you get angrier and angrier, and doing any one of them wrong is going bring horrible pain but doing them right is going to just leave you ignored. Under those conditions? Getting a 99 cent Christmas card is near fucking impossible, not the slight gesture you present it as.

When I was your nephew's age, I didn't buy aspirin or similar drugs. I would get headaches--I had issues with headaches when I was his age--but I didn't buy aspirin. Why? Because, if I bought it, I would just run out again, and then I'd have to buy it again. That's how my thought process went: something as simple as remembering to buy aspirin, going to the store to buy it, and then keeping track so I could remember to go to the store again when I ran out, was too hard. I didn't know how to do it. No one had taught me a language that involved pieces like: "When you run out of necessary goods, you should use money to buy more of them" or "You matter enough that, when you are in pain, you should get yourself aspirin." I didn't have that language, when I was your nephew's age. I'm 32 now, and I'm still not thoroughly fluent in it.

So, let me just point this out: the expectations you have for your nephew, which I know you have just because you love him and want the best for him, are poisonous enough that they led me, a 32 year old woman who is in no way connected to you or your nephew and has actually succeeded in the ways your nephew is currently struggling, to tears. The way you are approaching your nephew's illness is misguided to such an extent that it has left me in pain. What must it feel like, for your nephew?

All of this is to try to help you understand how the demands you're making on your nephew are so difficult for him. All of this is to try to help you understand the sort of care and concern and compassion your nephew needs, and why he can't just become a well-adjusted adult like you want him to. He doesn't have the language. And if you're not in a position to actually teach him the language, rather than just expect him to somehow learn it on his own, you're not in a position to help him.
posted by meese at 11:32 AM on December 30, 2015 [124 favorites]


This question is best addressed with his therapist, or if he has a social worker associated with his hospitalization, the social worker. Folks here have done a thorough job of describing the mountains ahead of your nephew, and you, should you take him in. As another data point, I'll add that I know a successful (made six figures) adult whose mental health team ended up recommending something like 6 months of recovery after an attempt, and they returned to work with reduced duties and hours. And this was someone with so many more resources than your nephew up till then. The team were clearly right, too, so talk with his mental health care providers about what they think would help him. It may be that he needs to stay with you for just a little while until he can get in to a more structured program, or that they have different recommendations for how you can help him successfully recover.

I agree that you're an awesome aunt for wanting to help him escape his abusive past and asking this question.
posted by ldthomps at 12:07 PM on December 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


I concur with pretty much everyone else that overall you don't sound like you're the best match for him at the moment, but if it's literally you or abandoning him to his current situation forever, then...well.

What it boils down to is, dude is not in any way shape or form up to getting a driver's license, job, and GED right now. An ultimatum won't make him do it. He basically needs to be toilet trained in life right now, he needs to be gently held by the hand, spoon fed, and slowly and carefully gentled up to the point where he can sit behind the driver's seat of a car for the first time. It'll probably take him a long time and a lot of work on the part of other people to get him to the point where he's capable of doing those things, even if he's 18.

And remember: someone has to choose to hire you for a job, so nobody can just "get a job" easily any more. He probably doesn't have a whole lot to recommend him to an employer when tons of people are out of work, either.
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:31 PM on December 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


you too are a survivor of abuse and that may be coloring your perception of his illness. Often survivors of similar situations (especially those from the same family) view the reactions of other survivors unfavorably.

This is important. I'm wondering if you're reading our responses and maybe rolling your eyes a bit, thinking, "Yeah, I get it, but come on. I had it tough, too. I pulled myself up. If I could do it, why can't he?", and part of the answer is that he is a different person, who dealt with a slightly different situation. Different brain, different body, different context - your mom and his mom created slightly different situations by the time he came around. Your early experience isn't the same as his, your nephew isn't the same person you are.

You know a bit about child development from this place or maybe a course, right? Really good to read about or review if not. I'm not doing any of it justice, but: a baby develops a pattern of responses to their parents' behaviour early, early on.

There are a few common strategies babies/kids/people take, and they depend on what the baby's like (temperament, etc), what the parent's like, and the nature of the interaction between them. Which strategy a baby goes with isn't a choice, it just sort of emerges.

Some people wind up fighting. Some people wind up retreating, avoiding. Some wind up vigilant, looking for danger, all the time. (There are more, obviously, and that's a bit simplistic, but those are just examples of common ones.) You might make value judgements on these different strategies, but none of them is a choice*.

And that response pattern sets things in motion, and snowballs from there. It winds up getting reinforced within that relationship, and gets carried forward into other relationships and settings, which might also reinforce it. It gets baked into the nervous system, on a deep, deep level, even down to the level of basic perception (like which images you're more likely to notice on a screen).

It's possible for that to be changed, but only if the environment offers new (realistic) response choices and role models. The response might be so strong, already, that it takes a special environment and special role models to make a difference.

*And given an abusive environment, all these strategies can carry a cost. I know someone who wound up a real fighter. The cost for him is that he sees vulnerability as something threatening, it messes with his survival strategy. He has a visceral response (anger) when he sees others who are vulnerable, and hates it in himself. I am not saying you're at all like that, but if you're having a knee-jerk response to this, it might be worth looking at.

Just mentioning this to bear in mind going forward. Maybe reading a bit about development would help you come to grips with all this.
posted by cotton dress sock at 1:24 PM on December 30, 2015 [16 favorites]


This is important. I'm wondering if you're reading our responses and maybe rolling your eyes a bit, thinking, "Yeah, I get it, but come on. I had it tough, too. I pulled myself up. If I could do it, why can't he?", and part of the answer is that he is a different person, who dealt with a slightly different situation. Different brain, different body, different context - your mom and his mom created slightly different situations by the time he came around. Your early experience isn't the same as his, your nephew isn't the same person you are.

Absolutely, and it's worth noting that most studies have shown that children with inconsistent parenting that veers between involved and neglectful and happy and abusive (which is an extremely common pattern for parents with alcohol issues) actually fare worse not only than children with supportive present parents (which would be expected) but also than children with continually abusive or continually neglectful parents, because such children can never quite develop a sense of what to expect or quite rely on one set of responses/defenses that will get them through the situation, so it's like constantly worrying about which step is going to set off the landmine.
posted by jaguar at 1:46 PM on December 30, 2015 [38 favorites]


I won't reiterate what everyone else has said, but I want to point out that he may not treat you like authority figures- you're 25 (ish)and he's 18.You're probably like an older sibling in his mind, or a cousin- not someone he's going to uncritically accept authority from.

I see both sides of this as I really feel bad for the (sometimes endless) suffering and disappointment of those who provide a home to troubled young adults who can't or won't help themselves, and I have also been the feckless depressed young adult who needed a chance. One thing I know is that I had to motivate myself to change. I'm not really sure what sparked that- pressure socially to keep up with peers or establish more connections, wanting to date, and wanting my own place (mostly to date) had a lot to do with it, I think.
posted by quincunx at 2:17 PM on December 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


Anecdata: I'm 38 years old. A few years ago, I was cheerfully working 3 jobs. At one, I was a fairly menial employee at a retail department store. The second, I was the owner of a direct sales business. At the third, I was the assistant manager at a retail store. I rented an apartment and owned a car. I shopped for groceries. I did all the adulting typically expected of adults in America.

Then my brain and body betrayed me.

I currently work zero jobs. I don't menial, I don't directly sell, I don't assist, and I don't manage. I neither rent nor own anything larger than my bed. I shop for nothing. I very rarely adult. It's a good day if I get out of bed before I pee. I currently take 22 prescription medications, three of which are for mental illnesses. I live with friends who were kind enough to take me in. I do no chores and contribute nothing to the household. Most days, I don't leave my room, and interact only with whoever brings my meals.

My friends get it. They understand that getting healthy comes first. Getting adulty comes after getting healthy. Adultiness can't happen so long as it's impeded by illness. If my friends were to tell me I had to get a job by the end of January, else they were kicking me out, I'd be putting in a call to the local homeless shelter. Holding down any kind of regularly scheduled productiveness is so far out of my realm of possibility right now it may as well be on Saturn. "Get a job" is on the same level of possibility as "swim to Australia" or "roller skate to the North Pole." You may safely assume I can currently neither swim nor roller skate.
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 3:01 PM on December 30, 2015 [26 favorites]


To put into fancy wording what everyone is saying: amotivation is a feature of the disease we call depression. My shrink taught me the word "amotivation" and I have found it a very useful concept - the absence of meaningful ways to motivate yourself to take care of even the most basic human functions is characteristic of severe depression. It may seem contradictory that he can find the energy to game, but that is probably closer to a displacement activity (another fancy term that means out of place, stereotypical behavior under stress like flapping your hands, rocking, fiddling) than purposeful activity.
posted by gingerest at 5:13 PM on December 30, 2015 [8 favorites]


Even if he was willing to put in the effort, there's no guarantee he could get a job by the end of January. (When I was 22 I was out of work for nearly a year, and that was when I was applying for every job in the western hemisphere, including dishwasher.) So I don't think you should necessarily make him getting a job the deal-breaker, but it's fair to set goals he has to achieve and chores he has to do. It may be that he's been painfully short of discipline in his life, and having you push him could be what he needs to thrive. It might be good if you stepped in and did some of the things to get his life moving, like if you did the paperwork and set him up to start for the GED. (I'm not talking about doing everything for him, but doing some of the stuff so a path is clear before him.) If you say, basically, This is what is going to happen to you next, and this is what you have to do this week, it's possible that will give him the structure he has been desperately needing.

But all of this may put you into a more parental role than you're prepared for. You may be essentially taking over for his mom, who seems to have given up on the kid. This isn't a job you're obligated to do, but if you start down this path it could be devastating for the kid if you change your mind. I wouldn't suggest trying to have kids while this is going on. You could easily end up with a very troubled young man who thinks of you as his default mom, while you're busy trying to raise a new baby or two.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:40 PM on December 30, 2015


I was a very abused kid, with my first hospitalization a little after 18 two months after I started college.

I knew how to survive my parents but that was about it.

I didn't know how to sleep in a room that had a door that locked. I didn't know how to take comments from others. I didn't know how not to protect myself with flat affect and closed walls. Chores you could forget it. I didn't know how to observe when things were dirty unless it was obtrusive on the senses or painful, and then I didn't think I could make an impact on it because my abusers were always making it worse. In addition I had exhausting hypervigilance, and thought of myself an object. Frankly I don't remember much of anything until the next semester started, months later, and my life is a blur until I had a few years of therapy.

A best friends mom took me in (with 7 kids of hey own already!!) When I was 17. I learned so much by just watching, but I really just ate and slept there to them. The conceptualization of a safe place litterally did not exist in my head for YEARS after the abuse ended and it is something I practiced and worked on every day.

Depression is a soul crushing illness. It takes compassion and patience. It also makes the understanding that very simple things don't make sense and the tools for them take time to build.

Many people have said many suggestions. But I also want you to know that you may not see the impact of loving and kindness for years. Healing takes time introspection and hard work. I know many people gave up on me. I was troublesome. Too much. Dramatic. Disorganized. Not invested. Uncommunicative. They left. If they saw me today they would be presently surprised (I'm also surprised!) But the time and love they put in before I became to much for them did help me.

Therapy is a full time job for a kid with few resources and support. That is enough for him to do and the only requirement you should expect from him is tonot give up and keep trying. He will try and figure out his place in the world with time, space and encouragement.
posted by AlexiaSky at 5:53 PM on December 30, 2015 [21 favorites]


This is a very tough decision to have to make. One time I went to a foster parent organization and learned how their system worked, which made a lot of sense to me. When you take in a foster kid in their system, there is a point scale of privileges which is very precise and has no room for slacking off. Any violation of the rules reduces freedom, time and privileges until the kid is basically coming home from school, eating, then going to the bedroom to do homework then sleep...that's if they aren't living up to the rule set. It's tough but it's fair and there's no room for misunderstandings or pretending. I would suggest you need something along these lines if you accept this kid into your home. Either they learn to obey rules that you set, they lose privileges or ultimately they lose the right to stay there.
posted by diode at 6:22 PM on December 30, 2015


One time I went to a foster parent organization and learned how their system worked, which made a lot of sense to me. When you take in a foster kid in their system, there is a point scale of privileges which is very precise and has no room for slacking off. Any violation of the rules reduces freedom, time and privileges until the kid is basically coming home from school, eating, then going to the bedroom to do homework then sleep...that's if they aren't living up to the rule set. It's tough but it's fair and there's no room for misunderstandings or pretending.

This is a really old-school view of things that has been pretty much completely discredited by recent studies (using newer brain-scan technologies) on how trauma affects the brain. There may still be foster agencies using it as a model, but all of the trainings and readings I have done in the last few years about fostering and adoption embrace a much different model, which is very close to what most of the commenters here have been suggesting: Unconditional love -- combined with understanding that "slacking off" is actually his brain healing -- for the months or years it takes for him to believe you.
posted by jaguar at 6:37 PM on December 30, 2015 [33 favorites]


I just wanted to add, the video gaming could actually be a really really good thing. There could also be displacement or addiction issues, but it's also extremely likely it's offering him a community of peers and respect, and a way where work turns into physical, obvious rewards - something he is clearly lacking otherwise. So please don't see it as worthless or ban him from participating in them. Not that you brought up such an idea, and yes it would need to work around chore schedules when he's doing better, but I wanted to offer that perspective. Game commitments with peers have been something that got my brother out of bed when not much else could.
posted by blue_and_bronze at 8:15 PM on December 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


Data point: I'm a more or less functioning twentysomething with a professional master's degree and in 2014-2015 I spent six months unemployed and almost a year relying on the generosity of friends and family to keep me housed. I've never sent a Christmas card, and it wouldn't have occurred to me that it was at all my responsibility to keep in touch with extended family that way back when I was living with my parents. I certainly didn't talk much. I still can't really be trusted to throw away the obviously molded carrots in the fridge or take the trash out in a timely manner, let alone remember on what day to take it to the street. And this is me, functioning and successful, not me, depressed, let alone an alternate reality version of me, suicidally depressed and denied of both a social and a formal education. The expectations you have for this boy are unreasonable for an average person of his age, let alone someone who has suffered and been neglected as much as he has.
posted by wrabbit at 10:58 PM on December 30, 2015 [8 favorites]


[Couple answers deleted. Folks, I feel like the "don't berate the OP" issue has been pretty much addressed; of course everyone's welcome to weigh in as always but please stick to the question as posted, let's not have a debate in here.]
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 6:20 AM on December 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


It sounds like you feel like he is an immature teenager, when really he is mentally ill. Big, big difference.

I took in a relative who was lagging a bit and needed support and I did a lot of baby steps for him - found him a job, a place to live, got him physically to job and moved him into his new residence, bought him a bike so he could get around town, paid for his schooling and books etc etc. And he didn't have any mental illnesses - just needed help launching. If you did this, you'd take on the role of parent, guide, mentor and *social worker*. You'd have to monitor his meds, connect with doctors, find him job, get him to/from job, find him GED classes, get him to/from GED classes, you get the drift...

Question for you: Could you AND your husband could do that?

Also, not to be down on video games, but lord if that doesn't make depressed people more depressed...I'd say if you do let him move in and take all this on, ask him to leave the video games with his mom and help him find a hobby that gets him out more.
posted by Toddles at 10:13 PM on December 31, 2015 [3 favorites]


I know pretty much nothing about modern video games, but maybe there's a co-operative kind of game that you or your husband could play with him? I know people seem to rave about Splatoon for the Wii U.
posted by blueberry at 5:23 AM on January 1, 2016


Video games can offer a sense of connection and even accomplishment. They are not necessarily a bad thing, depending on how much time is being spent.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:39 AM on January 1, 2016 [2 favorites]


This is pretty late, and I'm not sure you're still reading, but if you are - a few things to offer. Depression is incredibly hard and it is incredibly frustrating to live with someone who is depressed. Most of what you need to know has been covered above, but I wanted to reiterate/summarize:

1) you need to work with professionals to help him. He is most likely working with a therapist and also a social worker. They need to be part of the team that helps him and you need to work with them.

2) You will probably also need a therapist. Therapy is incredibly helpful for processing all of the frustration, anger, boundary issues, frustration, and (did I mention?) frustration that comes with living with a loved one who has depression.

It is an admirable thing you want to do, but as others have noted: he has such a long, long road ahead of him, and you will probably not see results immediately. Part of your discussions with his professional team should include goal setting and what is appropriate for where he is at right now. Living with someone who is depressed is a very large exercise in dealing with the here and now, what is in front of you today, and learning to accept that this (whatever "this" might be) might be the best it will be for a long time - if not forever. I don't say that as a defeatist thing, but to say: you need to be able to get to a point where you can look at him and say, "OK, for today, just him staying alive is enough. For today it is enough." Because there will be a lot of days - especially right at the beginning - where that is all he'll be able to do. The fact that he's still going to his therapist is actually great - that IS him trying to get better and improve himself. Therapy is really, REALLY hard and that is a great example of him trying to better his situation. But you'll need to get to a point in your own mind where you can value that and understand that is the first step in a very long path.

It's hard. I won't lie. But I think you can do it. As I said, start with his professional team to understand what you're working with, and what's appropriate, and go from there.
posted by RogueTech at 11:29 PM on January 2, 2016 [2 favorites]


One further thing I'd add is that a recently suicidal teenage boy is probably not the best person to be driving, right now. I'd focus on other, safer modes of transport.
posted by Acheman at 4:12 AM on January 3, 2016 [5 favorites]


Following on Acheman's train of thought - if you have guns, get them out of the house. Ditto for drugs he could abuse/overdose, and alcohol. By what method did he attempt suicide before? Do everything you can to prevent that method from happening. Suicide is very often an impulsive act and any obstacles you can put in his way might slow him down enough to reconsider.
posted by desjardins at 12:24 PM on January 3, 2016 [8 favorites]


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