How to help my depressed brother/roommate without losing my own mind?
June 6, 2009 10:56 AM   Subscribe

My little brother is my roommate, is clinically depressed, lost his job, and can't/won't pay the bills. What do I do?

My brother "A", 20 (I'm 25), lives in my apartment. He has been diagnosed clinically depressed following the death of our mother in 2005, but most likely was before that. After she died, he dropped out of high school, generally vegged and played WoW for a few years. My dad pushed him to get his GED and he did. He dropped out of community college shortly thereafter.

Dad sent him to live with a relative in another state for three months, to train for a job down here. Dad got remarried in that time and has some stepkids now and generally no rooms in the house. Upon "A"'s return in January, we agreed that he would move into my condo in a standard arrangement with rent, share of bills, chores, etc.

Since that time he has managed to break nearly all of my small list of guidelines such as no weed in the house, clean up after yourself, don't leave open food around. He has now lost his job and says he cannot pay his rent or the bills.

He is seeing a therapist, but not taking his meds (except for copious amounts of pot), as far as I can tell is not seriously searching for a job, and is obviously severely troubled. However on my salary, I just can't afford to subsidize his living here. Just the electric bill has gone to 2-3x what it was when I was here alone.

I'm worried I am going to have to kick him out before the end of the month but I really don't know where he will go. Dad & he are essentially not talking right now. I'm not exactly comfortable with the idea of putting my little brother out on the street with no job, car, or much of anything, but he's not managing his end of the deal whatsoever. I work too many hours to stay home and be his personal life coach, and I get paid not nearly enough to handle the bills for two people.

Advice is welcomed.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (27 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Talk to him about this. Tell him he's going to have to leave unless he shapes up and at least makes an effort at getting a job.
Your dad (who I'm guessing is in a better financial spot than you) should be helping you out with this. It sounds like you really got left holding the bag in this deal.
posted by dunkadunc at 11:10 AM on June 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Get a loan from your dad to cover the shortfall this month, and you should tell your bro he has to work with his therapist to get him whatever it is he needs in order to get a job, with a fixed deadline or he's out.
posted by By The Grace of God at 11:11 AM on June 6, 2009

Where is he getting the money for the pot? Seems like that should be coming your way, at a bare minimum.
posted by Bardolph at 11:15 AM on June 6, 2009 [4 favorites]

>: Get a loan from your dad

I would say no. Either get the money as a gift, as families do when a member hits hard times, or have it be repayable by your brother.
posted by dunkadunc at 11:16 AM on June 6, 2009 [5 favorites]

Seconding By The Grace of God. And I actually had to do this with my sister, when she was the same age. Except she had progressed to stealing and lying. A fixed deadline is key... and you have to stand by it. My sister thought I was bluffing and did nothing to pack or find another place to live. But I was determined that she would be out if I had to put her things on the street. This was very upsetting for my mom. She ended up paying to move and put my sister's things in storage. But the last day of deadline... my sister was out. She ended up staying with her boyfriend for a couple of months, then got a dorm room, and eventually her own apartment. It's tough love, but it works.
posted by kimdog at 11:23 AM on June 6, 2009

Set a deadline for him to move out, enforce it. You're enabling his behavior.
posted by HuronBob at 11:29 AM on June 6, 2009

And between now and the deadline, press your dad for financial help and don't feel bad about it. Dunkadunc is right; this is more Dad's responsibility than yours, and it's not fair for you to be shouldering it on your own.
posted by palliser at 11:45 AM on June 6, 2009

If he has paid rent in the past then it is unlikely that simply putting his stuff out on the street and changing the locks would be legal.
posted by grouse at 11:51 AM on June 6, 2009

It's hard to tell how mentally ill your brother is, which may conflate the situation. If he had diagnosable depression, though, and isn't taking his medication...well, he probably qualifies for resources in the community.

I don't know where you are located, anonymous, but I would ask the therapist for resources in the community and also contact the local National Alliance for the Mentallu Ill and their families, and ask for resources.

For people who are diagnosed and qualify for these programs -- there are lots of resources. Job training programs/day jobs. A social worker. In some cases, free medications (although it sounds like he isn't taking them). I would see if he qualitifes for the various resources and make that a condition, too. The also have housing facilities if necessary, but that may be a last step scenario. Anyway, perhaps these places would be a place to start for job support and a social worker (and let them know he is not taking his medication). I know everyone is saying to throw him on the streets, but he may not be able to function without resources or treatment.
posted by Wolfster at 11:55 AM on June 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Screw this "guidelines" stuff. What you need are RULES in your house. A good RULE is "if I ever, EVER, even ONCE again see illegal drugs in MY house, I will immediately and unceremoniously kick you out of it." Do you know that people go to jail for this? Yes I know that's crazy but do you want it to be you? Do you want to be in the position of telling a cop "but it's not mine! honest!"?

Protect yourself before worrying about protecting him.
posted by fritley at 11:57 AM on June 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

You have a responsibility isto help your brother (I do believe that people have these responsibilities to family members), not to bankrupt yourself so he can be constantly high.

Tell your father, who should be helping you out financially here. Call, perhaps, a family meeting. Give your brother [reasonable period of time] to find a job and start paying you back for everything, after which he's out. Don't give him any more time about smoking pot in your place, or leaving food out/open, or refusing to clean up: it's now zero tolerance. If you do go the zero tolerance route on this, follow through. If you cannot follow through, it's worse than useless. Be prepared to make new keys. Be prepared to have him and possibly also your father angry at you, possibly for quite a long time. But you really, really are not in any way obliged to pay even more in utilities than you used to so your brother can be constantly high, even if he is depressed.

I cannot imagine what your brother is doing that uses that much electricity (other than a grow-op, which I hope it isn't), but inasmuch as possible, get that stuff out of your place.
posted by jeather at 11:57 AM on June 6, 2009

Here's how to start the conversation with your dad (which I think you should have immediately):

"Dad, A was 16 when mom died. We all saw he was depressed -- and the doctors said it was chemical depression -- but you sat by and watched him to do nothing but be depressed and play computer games until he was 18. Then you watched him drop out of community college, and shuffled him off to Relative's house, and now you asked me to be his keeper.

"Look, I appreciate that you are not talking with A now, and you're pretty busy with your new set of kids, but I need you to step up. I am not equipped to handle this, and I think you know it. I don't appreciate the position I've been put in, and I don't appreciate the position I'm about to be in -- being the bad guy and putting A out on the street, or facing real financial hardship.

"As you are A's father, we have two choices: We can work as a family on this, or you can work on this alone. But I won't be put in the parental role anymore."
posted by Houstonian at 12:34 PM on June 6, 2009 [27 favorites]

Honestly--and I say this as someone very much like your brother--the only thing that's going to work is a strictly enforced ultimatum and/or copious hand-holding on the most basic of tasks.

Probably the best thing to do is to help him find his own apartment. Then he'll need a job for reasons beyond so you'll quit nagging.

Mooching may seem like a dream vacation lifestyle, but it's actually extremely taxing when it comes to self-worth. Your brother is currently 100% useless, and trust me, he knows it.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:46 PM on June 6, 2009

If he has paid rent in the past then it is unlikely that simply putting his stuff out on the street and changing the locks would be legal.

IANAL, but if his name's not on the lease/mortgage, I'm pretty sure it's legal.

"As you are A's father, we have two choices: We can work as a family on this, or you can work on this alone. But I won't be put in the parental role anymore."

posted by HumuloneRanger at 2:01 PM on June 6, 2009

IANAL, but if his name's not on the lease/mortgage, I'm pretty sure it's legal.

Nope. By accepting rent you have created a landlord/tenant relationship. A written lease is irrelevant.

In some jursidictions self-help eviction of a residential tenant is a criminal offense. Do not do this without checking with a local lawyer or tenant union first.
posted by grouse at 2:22 PM on June 6, 2009

This is a kid who lost his mother at 16 and has been tossed around ever since. I think a lot of people speaking up here should really think about that what that means, especially if you were out of high school by the time you lost your mother, and out of college before you didn't have a room at home to go back to any more.

I'm not saying that the end advice might be the same - sometimes the situation at hand outweighs the circumstances leading up to it. But I'd be really reluctant to call this kid a slacker who needs some tough love to shape up.

But it seems pretty clear to me that he needs more than you can (or should, as his barely older brother) give him. Your dad needs to step up here. He could get himself a new wife and new kids; your brother can't get himself a new mom (and it doesn't even sound as though he got a stepmom). If you can't get the support on this from your dad, go get it from wherever you can - relatives, mentors, associations, religious leaders, anything. Get the advice from people who've been there - how are you supposed to know how to deal with this on your own.

I wish you so much luck with this, to you and your brother. People who haven't lost a mom (young) can be surprisingly ignorant and callous about what it does to your life. Even if in the end you need to kick him out and hope he finds his way, I hope that you'll be able to do it with love and the understanding that you're both in horrible position you should never have been put in.
posted by Salamandrous at 2:24 PM on June 6, 2009 [4 favorites]

If you have any strength left for dealing with this, I'd suggest a one month project with your brother where your both aim should be that you and your brother are real friends at the end and your dad is in speaking relations with your brother. If your brother rejects this aim, then you may say that he has to be gone from your life in one month. If he accepts, take it seriously. You may have to do the heavy lifting there, be emphatic to things that you feel that are beneath you and bite your tongue. You even may have to smoke some pot with him. If you can't respect and understand him at the end of the month, then you can't be a person to help him dig himself out from his depression either.
posted by Free word order! at 4:23 PM on June 6, 2009

This is a kid who lost his mother at 16 and has been tossed around ever since. I think a lot of people speaking up here should really think about that what that means, especially if you were out of high school by the time you lost your mother, and out of college before you didn't have a room at home to go back to any more......I wish you so much luck with this, to you and your brother. People who haven't lost a mom (young) can be surprisingly ignorant and callous about what it does to your life. Even if in the end you need to kick him out and hope he finds his way, I hope that you'll be able to do it with love and the understanding that you're both in horrible position you should never have been put in.

I lost my mother three days after my fourteenth birthday...and whilst losing her at that point had long lasting effects in many ways it never stopped me from setting myself goals, pursuing them and supporting myself. Your brother's behaviour is not acceptable ever. A lot of people suffer some kind of trauma growing up, be it death of a parent or abuse and the majority still manage to be functional adults who support themselves. In letting him use you the way he is you are making it possible for him to avoid dealing with his pain for how ever long he chooses.

Trouble is that the behaviour you describe is what my brother ended up doing for over 10 years - fortunately (for me) he lived with our father. I am convinced that it took so long for him to finally get a grip because our father allowed him to stay rent free, ensured there was food in the cupboard and gave him a bit of cash and the car keys. Our father also allowed him to relieve his misery by arguing over everything, shouting at him, threatening him and generally making our father's life a misery. And yes, over the years I had a number of conversations with our father about how this situation could not continue for ever, not that these converstations did any good.

Your brother undoubtedly needs therapy but he also needs to help himself by taking his medication, leaving the house to go to work and supporting himself. At the end of the day it is up to him to learn to cope with his loss and find a way to live his life - as you appear to have done. The only way he is going to do that is if he is forced to do it - allowing him to keep doing what he is doing now just allows him to turn into a stuck record - he'll just repeat his miserable thoughts to himself over and over without introducing any new ideas/ways of looking at things - the things normally provided by social interaction with friends (bet he has no more than one, if any?!) and people you work with...

As you may have guessed my brother and I did not see eye to eye on this one and it had a profound impact on our relationship. I rarely ever visited them and hardly spoke to my brother at all - everything he said/did just infuriated me to a degree where it was bad for me to spend time with them and for my father as my visits seemed to cause more arguments.

And so it was for ten years and then my brother goes and surprises us all (including himself I imagine). Somehow he has found a way out of his depression (he always refused therapy), got himself a job, stuck with it and is actually moving into his own place this month...yippee! We now talk quite regularly on the phone - in fact we have talked more in the last six months than in the last ten years and it is great to once more have a brother.

Don't help your brother to waste ten years of his life.
posted by koahiatamadl at 4:26 PM on June 6, 2009

Your brother's behaviour is not acceptable ever.

That is a load of crap. If he had been ass raped for 10 years by a babysitter or whatever, or if he had become paralysed from the neck down because a tree fell on him, would the standard be different?

Depression and anxiety are incredibly difficult to treat. Let's see, today I have had anxiety symtoms going for ten hours straight. It makes me tired, makes it hard to think, plan and work. My jaw is clenched pretty much all day, and I rarely really enjoy anything. I have a job right now, thank God, but there is not a single day when I don't wish, profoundly and deeply inside my heart, to have a life free from responsibilities and tests. I feel like some part of me is very tired and has never really had a chance to rest. It's like a burden I have to carry for the rest of my life, and I can carry it right now, but if something happens and my capacity diminishes, then bang! I could be this guy, on the road to homelessness. Depression and anxiety make it hard to work. My facial expressions, interactions with others, and ability to focus and deliver are often impeded by the disease. Slowly I am learning tricks to deal with it, but one wrong step one day could send the whole thing tumbling down like a house of cards.

Depression is a disease like any other. It is not a character flaw, and stigma causing self hate is a massive barrier to effective treatment. Also, going to therapy sucks for a lot of people. You often feel worse after therapy, the homework and self examination is hard, and many people hate themselves so much because of the stigma that they don't even want to think about themselves, so they distract. WOW and pot are one way. I have an iPod full of audio books that I HAVE to use whenever there is a period of time where I could get caught in a negative thought cycle.

His behaviour is completely acceptable, in the sense that it is a result of a disease, and character value judgements won't work. Murder isn't ever acceptable, but your brother is trying (poorly) to cope with his disease. That doesn't mean you have to put up with it. He does have a responsibility to get structures in place to enable him to pursue treatment more effectively, and his therapist should work with him to do that.

I can hear your frustration. You will feel less frustrated if you learn more about depression and how it works and feels on the inside, and if you get help from your family. It might b useful for your father and your brother himself to learn how depression works, to learn more about his particular depression, and maybe review if his therapy arrangements are a good match.

You are in my thoughts and prayers.
posted by By The Grace of God at 5:13 PM on June 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm thinking tough love... he's in a rough place, but that doesn't mean he will always be there.

1. he needs to see a psychiatrist, or at the very least see one once to get a prescription for antidepressants, and then he needs to take them religiously. I say this as someone on antidepressants whose life has been changed for the better by them.

2. he's coasting and you taking care of him, while loving, is also enabling. get him on antidepressants, give him a couple of months for them to start kicking in, and then you need to set some goals for him and FOLLOW THROUGH WITH CONSEQUENCES IF HE DOESN'T MEET THEM. That's the hardest part of tough love, but the part that makes it work.
You can start with small goals - keep the house clean - or go straight for getting a job and contributing to rent. If he doesn't do this in a reasonable amount of time, take him round to the homeless shelters that are his next option, and give him another month.

I have great sympathy for him, and for you. I don't think a clinically depressed person who's lost a parent should just get over it. But all over the world every day there are people in the same situation who also manage to function, to pay bills, be responsible, while working through it. he needs help to get to that place, but get to that place he must.

posted by Billegible at 8:56 PM on June 6, 2009

I think a lot of this advice is harsh. I think trauma can slow a kid down for a few years - a 20 year old might be more like an 18 year old in emotional maturity. I'd say talk to your brother, ask him to help you, tell him you are struggling too. It might take a while for him to grow up enough to be able to look after himself. In the mean time you have preserved your relationship with him, which will last for the rest of your lives.

Of course your dad should be doing this, and he's let you both down badly here. It's a lot for you to take on at 25. That's why you need to get your brother to understand that you need his help too. But this talk of throwing him out just seems terribly cold. It's a rotten harsh world, and people get lost completely.

I'd take any of my brothers or sisters into my home to live if they were so traumatised they couldn't work, and I like to think they'd do the same for me. And we are in our forties.
posted by communicator at 1:58 AM on June 7, 2009

I'd take any of my brothers or sisters into my home to live if they were so traumatised they couldn't work, and I like to think they'd do the same for me. And we are in our forties.

People's advice might have different if the OP hadn't said s/he just couldn't afford the bills. I'd take my siblings in, too, but there's a little wiggle room around here that the OP just doesn't seem to have. What's the suggestion here -- go into credit card debt? Get a second job?
posted by palliser at 11:37 AM on June 7, 2009

I'm the dad referenced above. Son #1 sent me a link to his posting. The situation isn't as cut and dry as described above. We HAVE all been trying to get through to "A", to no avail. Yes, he has had a rough time of did he rest of us. Son #1 managed to get through 4+ years of college at the same time and establish a career. We have had family and individual counseling. "A" went to a shrink and was prescribed antidepressants, but, they don't work if you WON'T take them. We have all gone the extra mile for "A", but, he doesn't give back. No effort whatsoever. And, I've also been diagnosed with Clinical Depression. Seeing your wife and the mother of your 2 kids getting sicker and sicker over a long period of time and eventually die isn't easy on anyone. But, when the time came, I decided to DO THE WORK to get myself better. Do you really think either of the 2 sons was that supportive? I think not. "A" was not foisted on his brother. Everyone agreed to this. "A" now had a job, with a pretty good salary and benefits, working from home no less, with his dad. Since that time, he has blown the job by goofing off and wasting time. Son #1 need some extra $$$$ every month to help offset payments on a shiny new car. I married a lovely lady [with 2 kids who have a dad of their own] but unfortunately at the present time, there aren't enough bedrooms. We're planning a move soon, where there will be enough room, but, alas, I established some conditions of behavior, respect, decorum, etc. at home which "A" wants nothing to do with. And, the new wife / stepmom happens to be a very caring compassionate wife, mother and nurse, but, when you keep getting rejected, you eventually lose the desire to try to help. This has happened with everyone. I'm worn out, son #1 is worn out, other nameless relatives also.

I came to the conclusion that tough love was the only thing that will shape this kid up. He has to hit rock bottom. Where that is I don't know. He has one more relative to go live with, but we've told grandmas she must refuse.

"A" makes it very difficult to help him. I feel he hasn't admitted to himself that he needs our help. We're here when he does. In the meantime he will continue to manipulate every situation to make himself look like the victim. The old adage - you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink - fir perfectly here. Comments please.
posted by jdminsfla at 5:17 PM on June 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

jdminsfla, it's good to read your comment. Since you asked, I'll share some more of mine.

You've put Son #1 (anon) in a terrible position, one that he agreed to -- but what else was he to do when his father asks him to help his brother? He comes to us for advice: Should he make his brother homeless, or should he incur tremendous debt and disruption in his life?

He's just starting out in life. It sounds like he's made some good choices, worked tremendously hard, and ok... got a car that maybe you think he shouldn't have (ah, youth!). But you've had a quarter century of parenting experience. Maybe a half century of living experience. And he doesn't. He's scared, and he needs you.

Son #1 is not equipped to make these kind of very hard choices right now, and he shouldn't be in a position to make them. I have no doubt that it was hard on your entire family when your first wife died. You say, "Do you really think either of the 2 sons was that supportive. I think not." Well, ideally a family would all pull together in a time of grief, but in the end you were the parent of teenage boys. It was not their responsibility to pull you out of your grief, and it's not Son #1's responsibility to pull A out of his depression.

Seriously, what would you have Son #1 do? Do you want to saddle him with this? Have him make these hard decisions, and be forced to live with that memory for his whole life?

I understand you are tired. And you don't know what to do about A. But, don't put this on your other child. I stand by what I said before: It's time for you to step up.

I guess that sounds glib. So easy for me to type, but so hard for you to do. But that's exactly my point: This is going to be hard. Really hard. Don't make Son #1 carry that weight. Make a decision: Either support A, or give him that tough-love shove to the streets, but please don't make Son #1 do this.
posted by Houstonian at 7:13 PM on June 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

I think it's admirable that you responded to being forwarded this thread by contributing to it, especially given that you were roughed up a bit in the comments.

There are two thoughts I had, reading your comment: one, that you doubtless worked hard to recover from your wife's death, but recovering from a death in the family is different when you're 16 than when you're a grown man. Clearly there are kids who get over a mother's death relatively quickly, but everyone has different levels of resiliency. Two, your wife and stepchildren are a comfort to you, but they are an added difficulty for your son. To him, they represent the replacement of his mother and himself in the life of his one surviving parent. Again, some people get past that sort of black-and-white thinking, but it sounds like he's not the most resilient person, and that is an extra challenge. Expecting it to be a comfort and benefit for him, as it is for you, is a little unrealistic.

In any event, as someone who suggested the OP lean on you for financial support until some deadline for his brother to get a job or move out, what I was thinking was not, "Oh, Dad can fix this all if he really wants to; it's all his responsibility," but "It's A's responsibility in the end, but it's more Dad's responsibility than the OP's. Because he's the parent."

This is a wrenching, frustrating situation to be in, and I feel for you, but don't let A drag your other son into financial insolvency.
posted by palliser at 7:24 PM on June 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

Thank you Houstonian & palliser, for your comments. Of course I know it's not Son #1's job to take care of "A", and rest assured Son #1 is not going to experience any financial hit. I know I'm still Dad, but, the reason we're here talking about this - neither son #1 or I know what comes next. "A", and we know he's somewhat ill, is a manipulator. We have fallen for his crap endless times. we decided that that's not going to happen this time. "A" thinks I'm looking for an apology - what I really want is for him to for once be contrite. I want him to acknowledge that he needs help, that his family wants to help him, that we care about him. It's like an alcoholic or drug addict - you can't make them stop until they acknowledge that there's a problem and that they need to do something about it. Remember what they used to do with people who had the DT'S ? They would restrain them until they got through it. Is that what we need to do?
posted by jdminsfla at 7:07 PM on June 9, 2009

jdminsfla, you need to ask a counsellor (for you - your counsellor, not your son's) what to do. You've got a good, broad perspective, but only a professional who can meet you in person can see if there are any blinders on - any avenues you don't see. The counsellor can walk you through all the steps and strategies.
posted by By The Grace of God at 5:22 AM on June 13, 2009

« Older How can I get people to give me a chance?   |   Loom of Language? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.