Help my depressed teenaged brother.
May 20, 2010 8:20 AM   Subscribe

How can I help my possibly-depressed teenaged brother?

When I came home from college to visit, I found that my brother's long-problematic sullen teenage behavior has gotten even worse. Over the course of his high school years, he has gone from a cheerful boy with his eyes on college to a black cloud permanently parked on the couch.

I'm sure that this is more than the usual teenage moodiness. In high school, his group of friends got into drinking and drugs. He followed; the result was a DUI one night, just a few months after he got his license. Being stripped of his license put an end to most of the substance abuse, and he's going to NA. But after losing his license, he also lost interest in his hobbies and interests. He had already lost his commitment to school when he started partying, and it doesn't seem like his grades will ever recover.

Now he stays home frequently, complaining of being too tired to go to school. He comes home and falls asleep in front of the TV, or plays Modern Warfare 2 all night long. Today, he was in such a deep sleep that I couldn't rouse him to come to dinner, or even get a word out of him.

My parents have agreed that he needs some kind of help, but he is sullen and unresponsive when they try to talk to him about it. He doesn't respect my socially-inept, elderly father. He does respect my mother, but in order to support the family she works very long hours and is rarely there to keep him on track or help with his problems. The result is that it's very hard to enforce any attempt to get him to therapy or to somehow improve his life. We could set up appointments for him to go to therapy, but similar endeavors in the past have ended in him refusing to leave his bed and giving us no response but "I'm not going. Leave me alone."

I'll be going back to college for summer classes, and I have very little power in the family. Besides trying to be a good role model and to help out brother when I'm at home, what can I do? He's sullen and recalcitrant in the extreme (not just with my father but with my mom and myself), and my attempts to communicate with him in even the smallest way are usually met with silence. While it seems clear that he's depressed and getting further depressed every month, I'm at my wit's end when it comes to actually changing the situation. Please offer any help you have, especially regarding the mechanics of actually getting him in the car and going to therapy.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Does he want to change?

Part of the problem is that if he is depressed, he might or might not want to change, but will probably see change as impossible. That's the particularly insidious nature of depression. So, you theoretically could physically pick him up between you and stick him in the car and force him into therapy, but all the therapy in the world won't help if he doesn't want to get better.

There is also the sink-or-swim approach. A version of this worked on me, but it was pretty rough for a while. The idea is that if he doesn't do X, then Y won't happen. If he doesn't apply for at least one job, then he has to cook his own meals. If he doesn't pay part of the electricity bill, then he doesn't get to use his gaming console. Etc. In part, it's an issue of making depression a less viable alternative. When you have something of an adrenaline rush, it's harder to sit still and sleep and slouch about. In can backfire, in that you just end up with anxiety and depression, but it worked for me.

Him falling asleep on the couch and being unable to be woken sounds to me like he's still taking drugs of some kind. That's not normal-sounding to me, but I'm not a doctor. Does he have a mentor of some description in NA that can talk to him?
posted by Solomon at 9:52 AM on May 20, 2010

Yeah, you can't force him into therapy. If he doesn't want to be there and do the work it won't help. However, I would just try to be supportive. I feel like a lot of times, especially with young people, no matter how much you're really trying to help, all they hear is "you're a problem, fix your problems, you're the problem," and if things are already overwhelming this may make them withdraw even more.

Even if most of his responses are silence, just keep talking to him, don't try to be too overly "bright and cheery," because that will be annoying, and don't storm off in a huff if you're not getting a response you want, thinking he'll feel bad he upset you ( I have made both these mistakes).

i think the best personal mantra I've found is to "go where they go" when dealing with people in a difficult spot, which it sounds like your brother is. Even if it's a bad place, go be with them in it for a little while, sit with the hunched shoulders and blank stares and just BE there.
posted by sweetkid at 10:32 AM on May 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

One thing you could do is just sit with him. Don't say anything or read a book. But be in the same room or sit with him on the couch (or lie on it with your feet touching him gently). Gentle human contact (without criticism, without expectations) may provide some solace. Best of luck.
posted by zia at 6:38 PM on May 20, 2010

I kind of wonder if he's doing drugs too. Whatever's going on, he doesn't sound happy. The best luck I've had with talking to people about touchy subjects is to slant the converation to what benefits them.
In your brother's case, I'd say something like "You seem really unhappy right now. I care about you and want to help. Is there anyway for me to do that?" That way you're not trying to push him into doing what you think he needs to do, just offering him help to feel better. It doesn't always work but I've had good results with it. Hope things work out.
posted by stray thoughts at 11:24 PM on May 20, 2010

« Older Where should I live?   |   How did you get out of debt? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.