how to help a loved one get help?
March 17, 2011 3:34 PM   Subscribe

Someone I care about probably has Asperger's and might be depressed but has never given therapy a real shot. How do I get help from a professional and find the right resources so that I can help them? What is the best way to make them want to get help themselves? Details inside.

A younger sibling, who is now a young adult, has never really had friends while growing up, has always been shy to the point of not answering people when spoken to, had episodes of crying in class in high school when asked a question. Sibling has been to therapy as a teenager for a few sessions, but then walked out one day crying and never went back, never explained to anyone what happened in there. I assume that the therapist just wanted to talk about all this, which made Sibling feel uncomfortable.

Sibling barely goes outside unless it is to go to class, never gets exercise, rarely talks to family even, unless it's about the latest programming project (and yes, I always try to talk to Sibling about their interests, since it is the only thing s(he) will actually have a conversation about in full sentences). Asking Sibling about what s(he) wants to do after college only gets a shrug in return, encouraging Sibling to find a meetup involving a hobby gets a "mmhmm" in response, but nothing is ever done about it, even if I offer to come with them (and I am genuinely interested in going).

It is painful to see Sibling all alone, with no one to talk to, and at the same time I am concerned about the future. Sibling is really bright in his/her major in college, but there is no way Sibling would ever find a job if their response is to start crying if a difficult question is asked during an interview. In fact, I can't even imagine Sibling picking up the phone to call about a job because that is beyond the social skills that Sibling possesses. (I know that a phone call is not the only way to find a job, but just giving it as an example). Even the free-lancing jobs that Sibling sometimes gets usually fall apart because of inability to work with people.

I am the relative that Sibling listens to the most, and I've tried talking to Sibling about all this, but it seems like the more I do, the more Sibling puts up a wall and responds with "mmhmm" without anything being done. I feel like the number of times I get to talk to Sibling about this is limited, since Sibling retracts more and more every time I try.

My idea is for me to go to therapy, to learn how to talk to Sibling better, and to eventually somehow have Sibling want to go get help. I know that it will be up to Sibling to want to make a change, but I want Sibling to know that it is normal to want to get help or to go to therapy, that I will be there for them. I want Sibling to smile more often, to overcome shyness at least enough to order food at a restaurant.

So, is it a good idea for me to go to therapy, so I could kind of be the messenger between Sibling and a mental health professional? Do I need a psychologist? Psychiatrist? What should I look for when calling the doctors's offices?

If you have experience with people like this, any suggestions for how to get Sibling to open up more? I already talk to Sibling about their hobbies, school, a couple of interests that we have in common, but conversation is still really hard for Sibling, and this alone has not helped Sibling make any progress, (s)he is still as non-talkative as (s)he was years ago.

And before anyone attacks me on here, I just want to say that no one in the family is being too pushy with Sibling, I understand that an introverted shy person will always be that way to an extent, and I know that not everyone has to be "normal" to society, and my whole family loves Sibling the way s(he) is. I just want life to be a little easier for Sibling, I want them to have help if they really are depressed, want them to be able to ask for directions instead of crying when lost, etc.

Please email me if you have questions or want me to clear anything up, or have any advice and want to stay anonymous:
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried communicating with your sibling via email? If face to face conversations are too difficult for them but they do well in school that's an indication they might have much better non verbal communication skills.
posted by fshgrl at 4:28 PM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

You know, Sibling might feel very, very alone because everyone wants Sibling to be something they are not (currently). While Sibling might rationally know that it's better to work to be "normal", that might also be soulcrushing to know that there is no safe, accepting place for them as they are. There might be deep feelings of rejection there, and pressure to live up to everyone's expectations. I wouldn't want to go to therapy either if everyone was scrutinizing me for signs of improvement. Perhaps a sense of acceptance for Sibling as they are would help, and then a very carefully chosen therapist. It should be Sibling's choice to go, though. Let them take their time.

I think your idea of going to therapy is good, but you should do it for yourself, and not for Sibling. If you went for Sibling, you would never, ever be able to tell them, because it would make them feel terrible for being such a freak that they needed a "translator".
posted by griselda at 4:38 PM on March 17, 2011 [4 favorites]

Also consider there is a reason other than shyness siblings lack of trust and communication. Could sibling have been abused, bullied or traumatized in some way that caused them to withdraw. I'm not trying to be dramatic, just saying that your family may not be considering the full range of outside influences on sibling. Have they ever had a hearing test? Do they stutter when they're around strangers but you don't know it?
posted by fshgrl at 5:14 PM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Off the top of my head it sounds like Sibling has high levels of social anxiety and/or mutism. As well as being an introvert. Or, maybe, something traumatic that you don't know about has happened to them. Anyway, tread carefully here.

I am related to someone who is 'diagnosed' by everyone as being lazy, off with the pixies, or has Asperger's. He and I have the absolute best conversations using only our facial expressions and eyes. Best ever. Sometimes a look can say so much more than hours and hours of words can. I can see that he's as smart as all hell, but he's bored with being a young adult, studying, and all that - but he's smart, he's got secrets, man, he knows more than he's letting on, but he's sensitive and if you're a man who's sensitive you either get loud or shut up, right? (Coping mechanism). Some people aren't meant to be young and he'll emerge from his shell when he's damn well ready (I was the same - and I still scoot back in sometimes when feeling raw/under a microscope and I'm nearing 30). Not saying that that's Sibling's case, but it's just that people's behavior can be interpreted very, very differently by different people.

So, my point is this - a lot of what you've written in your question is very well meaning. I can see that you're concerned and that you want to help. But think about what you've written from a different perspective - you see how someone might not actually want friends and be quite fine all alone?

Some of your language is also fairly dismissive of Sibling - "I can't even imagine Sibling picking up the phone to call about a job..." - of course they will. Not necessarily now, but of course they will - have some faith! BTW, lots and lots of people - including very seemingly extroverted people - have phone phobias.

"Sibling barely goes outside unless it is to go to class, never gets exercise, rarely talks to family even, unless it's about the latest programming project" - Is fairly standard 'young person' stuff and is particularly the case with programmers.

Re: the crying - worst case scenario is that Sibling has PTSD. It's more likely though that it's just very, very high levels of stress due to social anxiety, a fear of expressing themselves (and whether they will actually be listening to and accepted), and perfectionism, and this release manifests itself in the form of crying. Other people get angry.

Highly sensitive people have a tendency to really feel everything very intensely. Sibling will need to learn how to implement barriers into their interactions with others (e.g. this situation is not a life-death threat to me personally/perfection is not demanded or expected of me in this situation) and will need to feel more grounded and in control of themselves.

By the sounds of it, if the therapy doesn't work (and with social anxiety, talking your problems through is kind of the problem), books could help, but still, it could come across as weird and judgmental. That's an attitude you're going to want to avoid if you actually want to connect with Sibling.

Mostly though this could very well be something they grow out of with lots of understanding attitudes from those around them. Some of us are just late bloomers.
posted by mleigh at 5:50 PM on March 17, 2011

Mostly though this could very well be something they grow out of with lots of understanding attitudes from those around them. Some of us are just late bloomers.

Maybe. Or maybe this is the sort of thing that people tell themselves about friends and relatives because they don't want to admit to themselves how serious the problem is. My guess is that "He'll grow out of it; it's no big deal" is what the OPs parents are saying about the situation, and that the OP is the one who realizes that someone-- the sibling, the OP, or the parents or all three, need to seek professional help to deal with the situation.
posted by deanc at 6:12 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Your sibling needs to get help, but you really can't force the issue. One thing that you might want to communicate is that social anxiety is treatable - living within the limits of severe social anxiety is not much different than someone hobbling around with a broken leg. It's more painful to live with it, it's treatable and can be fixed, getting it fixed can open up a whole new world.
posted by Ostara at 7:12 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

While I appreciate the perspective that you cannot run someone else's life for them, I think it should be stated that shyness to the point where you cannot order in a restaurant by the time you are university aged is in fact not normal, is not just introversion, and sounds like a social anxiety problem that does actually require professional intervention.

Anon, I'm not sure your sibling will benefit from therapy if s/he can't communicate with the therapist at all. I'm sure plenty of people will tell you your idea of going to a therapist first to see if you can work together to help your sibling is a terrible idea, but I actually don't think it is. If your sibling is open to going, knows he doesn't have to talk at all for the first few sessions, and can make his own choices about returning, then I think I'd try it.

I might also start with some books for your sibling. The Feeling Good Handbook is oft-recommended here, but people may have more precise suggestions.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:15 PM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

you are a very good Sibling. I think your going to therapy is an excellent idea. First, because you are upset by this and how it is affecting your family, and this is a good thing for you to work on in therapy. Second, because you could possibly get some good advice about how to procede with getting help for your sibling. It might even be theoretically possibly for your sibling to join you in a session, eventually. After all, there is such a thing as family therapy, and you and your sibling are part of a family.

Do you ever try to talk to your sibling about the pain s/he is in? Maybe you could just gently suggest that you understand that his/her situation must feel really bad sometimes. That's it. Nothing about what kind of job s/he thinks about, going to meet-up groups, or anything else that's concrete and "in the world" and therefore your sibling clearly would never voluntarily talk about.

I wonder if your sibling has ever tried posting to a group online about social anxiety. I'm sure there are plenty of appropriate message boards out there. Especially since you say that your sibling is a computer person. That's often a good start for people like your sibling. Do you happen to know if s/he talks to people on the computer at all, for example, about programming or other "neutral" interests?

This doesn't seem like a situation that's going to be grown out of. I think you have it right when you perceive that this is quite serious and I applaud your involvement with your sibling. It also might be possible, as somebody up there suggested, for you to either e-mail or write a letter to your sibling voicing your concerns more directly -- not about jobs, etc., but about how you know and feel that your sibling is in a lot of pain even though s/he doesn't express it directly, and you are very concerned and really want to help.

But back to your original question: yes, I think your going to therapy first is a great idea.
posted by DMelanogaster at 8:15 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

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