Best way to help a depressed houseguest
August 16, 2012 1:37 PM   Subscribe

How can we help our houseguest who is severely depressed? Is it okay for us to require our friend and daughter move out, even if she hasn't been able to find somewhere else to live?

In May, a long-time friend and her six year old daughter came to our house to stay as guests for the summer. Two years ago, after 20 years of steady employment, she lost her job and hasn't worked since. She is totally broke and gets some public assistance. From her public health plan, she receives medicines for her depression/anxiety but very little therapy. Her six-year old daughter is a delight. Our friend is a very good mother, fyi, and the two of them are really great people. She is extremely upset with herself for the mess she's in right now, and we know that she has had extremely dark thoughts, including suicidal thoughts.

That said, she has some good days (getting medical care, applying for some jobs) and some bad days (sleeping long hours, unable to concentrate). She has lost much of her willpower. She doesn't even have enough willpower to stop smoking pot in our house. After the first time she smoked pot in our house, we asked her to stop and she completely apologized, agreeing to not use it in our house again. [We're pro-legalization of marijuana, but have several valid reasons for not allowing it in our house.] Well, our friend broke her promise in less than a week, and has used pot in our house 2-3 times a week since. A few weeks ago, when I caught her using pot again, I asked her about it, and she said she felt incredibly guilty about breaking her promise; she also said she didn't want to give it up until she's working & has an apartment again. I responded with a choice: she could either stop using pot in our house, or else she would have to move out. She made her choice by saying that they would move out by September 1st.

We are highly skeptical that she will have another place to live on September 1st (she just started applying for public housing). If she asks to stay longer, what do we do? Do we still insist that she moves out on schedule? Is that kind of "tough love" what she needs? Or is that counterproductive in someone who is this depressed? Are there any actions you have found that work to help someone in this situation? We don't want to be enablers, but there is that a great kid to think of too. Any advice from your experiences would be greatly appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (33 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
She's living with you for free, yes? And using the money she saves living with you to buy pot and smoke it in your house? Kick her out.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:42 PM on August 16, 2012 [20 favorites]

Please do not relegate a six year old child to homelessness if you can avoid it. Just don't do that.

On the other hand, you are fine to do every single thing you can to enable them to secure housing by 1 September, or saying "I don't think 1 September is a reasonable expectation, but we'd like to help you move into your own home. Let's sit down and look at what's involved in that."

But do not threaten to kick her out on a certain date unless you are going to follow through, and I urge you not to do that. Ask her to smoke outside the house and be forceful about making her walk around the block or go for a drive or whatever when you find her smoking on your property.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:53 PM on August 16, 2012 [16 favorites]

You have been kind and generous, and have set a simple boundary. She chose not to honor your simple rule. Make sure she knows she has to find housing Sept. 1, and stick to it. She could use the $$ to get therapy or otherwise help herself out of the jam she's in. You could offer to have her child stay for a week or 2 if she's going to have to go to a shelter.
posted by theora55 at 1:54 PM on August 16, 2012 [6 favorites]

This is understandably very worrying to you. What stuck out for me is that pot is a depressant, and anyone who is seriously depressed should not be using it (any more than drinking is a good idea when depressed). Not only does it endanger you legally, I think it's dangerous for her mental health. (this isn't science talking, but I've had clinical depression -- and getting high would make that so much worse).

that said, I would be reluctant to ask her to move out if that would mean that her daughter would also be homeless. That kind of instability is so very damaging for children. It's one of those times when "Think of the children of the best interests of the kid" is appropriate, and the kid's safety/security may be more important than being an enabler or not.

This situation is not easy and there may be no good answers. The only things I can think of is that you need to stop your friend smoking and get her to some serious help (even in-patient help, if necessary), whether she wants it or not. Severely depressed people often don't want to get help, or rather, don't want to have to do anything to get help. Find out what is available locally - what addiction/mental health services there are.
posted by jb at 1:55 PM on August 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

She would rather continue to smoke pot than stay in a rent-free housing situation? Then things are not as dire for her as you might believe. Follow up on her September 1st progress, politely inquiring how things are going so that she can't pretend you don't expect her to leave. If she wants/needs more assistance from you, then she has to ask for it, and compromise to get it (aka stop smoking pot); these things are not "tough love", just basic decency stuff. Seems perfectly reasonable.

Also, have a back-up plan. If you're going to cave if she doesn't find a place and begs to be allowed to stay, you'll be better off if you have your plan set up in advance (a weeks' hotel costs for her to use, or a decision to let her stay another day but move her stuff into storage, or just sticking to your guns and asking for the keys) so that you can execute on your decision without having to make the decision while things seem more dire.

Finally, remember that she's unhappy about her situation, but she won't change it as long as you support her not changing it; being "extremely upset with herself for the mess she's in right now" and "incredibly guilty about breaking her promise" is fine, but "[not wanting to] give it up until she's working and has an apartment again" means she's under the belief that things aren't really that bad for her right now. Let her go on her own, and she can either succeed or discover she's worse off and come back with "oh shit I'm in a lot of trouble okay I'll give up the pot for reals" (in which case, refer to my previous paragraph.)

Good luck, and remember: you've already helped her out through the summer, and she's responded by refusing to follow a basic and fundamental (and ultimately extremely reasonable) rule you've set, so you're not being cruel and heartless here. Helping her for a summer doesn't mean becoming her guardian, after all.
posted by davejay at 1:55 PM on August 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

You probably have other mutual friends with this woman, and that's what a community is. Letting her stay at your house was probably the right first step, but there are more steps that come after that, and I think you need to ask for the participation of her larger community of friends to help carry her through this together.

Together, you can help her make a plan that she's OK with and then walk her—sometimes drag her—through that plan. Getting a resume together, getting a job, getting a new place to live. She's not in a state to do that on her own, so it's the responsibility of everybody who cares about her to pitch in how they can, but sometimes you need somebody to wrangle all those folks together so they can contribute constructively.

She probably has a friend who's giving her that weed because they think they're being helpful. Talk to that friend and say there's other ways to help.
posted by Jon_Evil at 1:56 PM on August 16, 2012 [7 favorites]

If she can't stop smoking pot long enough to help ensure safe housing for her child, she is not a good mother.

I would say ask her to leave, but if she doesn't have a place lined up by Sept 1st, call CPS and let them know that a 6 yo girl is about to become homeless.
posted by sparklemotion at 1:58 PM on August 16, 2012 [16 favorites]

First, folks, unless she's smoking some kind of crazy moon-weed or rolling joints out of newspaper sheets, at 2-3 times a week she's not smoking up a rent check.

Look, I know this is a tough situation for you, and you'd love advice, but this is entirely up to you. We don't know how close of a friend this is. We don't know how big of a deal it is that weed not be smoked in your house beyond a house guest (under serious pressure at a serious medical and mental disadvantage) following set rules or why it's a deal at all.

Personally, if I had a friend who was close enough that I'd take them and their child in to my home in the first place in this situation, I'd do everything in my power to help them. She's depressed, scared of her situation and her depression, and undoubtably thinks she's a burden to you whether she really is or not.

She's smoking a little pot to de-stress, and she feels that she needs that for whatever reason. She's not on meth or heroin. She's not even smoking every day. If the weed is really the only major deal here, there's got to be a workaround for you guys here.
posted by cmoj at 2:08 PM on August 16, 2012 [25 favorites]

The rule wasn't even "stop smoking pot," it was "stop smoking pot in our house," which is really quite reasonable. The OP isn't policing her friend's habits, just what happens within in the confines of her own home, that she is providing rent free.

Have her leave on September 1st, but let her know that you are available to help with specific tasks such as the job search, or helping out with the child if she is truly in dire straits.

(personally, I'd be worried about my pot smoking friend passing a drug test, if there was a likelihood of her landing a job soon)
posted by sawdustbear at 2:17 PM on August 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

Tough love doesn't work with depression, because it's not really in the person's control per se.

In this situation, replace 'depression' with 'two broken legs' and ask yourself what you would do.
posted by heyjude at 2:40 PM on August 16, 2012 [11 favorites]

cmoj, I get where you're coming from, but smoking inside her house exposes her to extremely serious legal risks. It's a reasonable request in exchange for free rent for her and her daughter.
posted by kavasa at 2:44 PM on August 16, 2012 [6 favorites]

I urge you to completely disregard cmoj's advice here. Don't let anyone guilt you into thinking that you are being prudish for prohibiting pot smoking in your home, or that you should let it slide because she doesn't smoke every day, or because "she's not on meth or heroin." This has nothing to do with whether one thinks pot-smoking is or should be a big or little deal, and everything to do with your friend's behavior vis-a-vis you. You have generously allowed her into your home, and she has responded by choosing to break the single rule that you have laid down. Caving on this sets a bad precedent.
posted by googly at 2:54 PM on August 16, 2012 [12 favorites]

Some of the advice in this thread is really disturbing to me. Calling CPS should be an absolute last resort. It's ridiculous to assume she's a bad mother just because she smokes pot. Also, no child should be ripped from her mother and put into foster care unless she's neglectful or abusive.
posted by timsneezed at 2:58 PM on August 16, 2012 [6 favorites]

None of that is what I said. People are calling for her to have her child taken away and there's nothing to indicate that to be necessary.

It's totally a reasonable request. It's a reasonable requirement, even. So why can't she adhere to it? I'm not saying drop the issue and let her smoke in the house if she wants. I'm saying it's worth figuring out why and what else can be done that satisfies everyone's needs.
posted by cmoj at 2:59 PM on August 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

Is the problem the smoking itself, or the getting high?Because if it is only the smoking she could do that outside / in the garage / basement , (or get hash cookies instead?)
If you don't want her getting high at all then I'd give her an ultimatum - stop it by x date or she's out. Maybe be kind by finding a shelter/ some place with her so she and the child arent going to be homeless.

How long has she been taking the meds - maybe the dose needs adjusting if she's still wanting weed? Doesn't the weed interfere with meds anyway?

Can you help her find another way to relax/ feel better as a substitute for the weed? (I'm not sure if you should, necessarily)
Good luck and points for being a thoughtful friend - she's lucky to have you.
posted by EatMyHat at 3:04 PM on August 16, 2012

As a pothead who has been depressed and not depressed, unemployed and employed, I can state:

a) Sometimes a friend really will give it to you for free.
b) Sometimes weed will provide a brief respite from depressive symptoms
c) Weed can help you escape unpleasant thoughts, including the idea that you are breaking the rules of the house

From your post, it seems like, in part because you are not prudish about weed, you may not have been all GASP HOW COULD YOU SMOKE WEEEEEEED IN OUR HOOOOOOUUUSE but in fact calmly explained why X Y and Z makes it so pot smoking doesn't work in your situation. I get also the compassion you've shown your friend.

Lay it on the line. No weed means No. Weed. I mean, FFS, if she wants to smoke she can go into the park. So spell it out: smoke outside. If you don't, out you go, because of reasons X Y and Z which were calmly explained earlier. If she's like HOMELESSNESS be like, yeah, shelters are rough. If she is like MY CHILD screw up your courage and say that shortly before homelessness, you will contact Child Services.

I get she's depressed. But the lady can smoke outside somewhere if she 100% needs a THC fix.
posted by angrycat at 3:04 PM on August 16, 2012 [15 favorites]

BTW: I don't think smoking pot is per se cause for calling Child Services, no way. But homelessness is.
posted by angrycat at 3:06 PM on August 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Also, folks, speaking from experience, weed is pretty useful for helping suicidal people want to kill themselves less. It's also a fuck of a lot cheaper than going to the doctor and getting a script for antidepressants
posted by Jon_Evil at 3:07 PM on August 16, 2012 [4 favorites]

I know it's fun to give snappy tough-love advice on the internet, but this sounds like a decent woman in a terrible situation she feels powerless to change. And she has a really little kid. What on earth about that situation will be made better by being all "Straighten up and fly right, girlfriend!"?

I totally understand your frustration. I would feel the same way. I don't have a magic fix for you, but... I think, if I am honest, that you will feel better about your own actions toward this longtime friend in a terrible crunch if you can act with compassion during this time. Some brainstorming:

*Totally address the pot again. I would just put it all on the table like so: "Look. I am not judging your pot use. But you CANNOT use pot inside my house. That is incompatible with staying here, and I want to help you stay here until things improve for you. Do you understand what I'm saying? I just don't know how to be more clear about this. If you smoke pot inside my house again, we will have to ask you to leave immediately, and that would be lousy. If you need to smoke, try behind the woodshed."

*I think for someone this depressed and hopeless, trying to get a job that will take care of everything can seem so monumental as to be paralyzing. Are there any local retail jobs that might be available to her, something that would let her get out of the house, interact with people, keep to a schedule, perhaps pay your family a token (but self-respect-improving) amount of room and board, and even put a little bit away toward an apartment deposit?

*If no, can she do any volunteering? This lady sounds like she really needs to get back to thinking of herself as a person with something to offer. (Which I know she does.) I almost feel like the money and the work is sort of a secondary issue, and the "I am a person who has value and contributes to the common good" is what's really crushing her here. She feels so stuck that she can't get herself unstuck.

You sound like such a kind friend. And your friend sounds like she has fallen on such hard times. I think, if you feel like you can do it, ignoring the snappy tough-love internet advice and instead choosing to love your friend (while still being firm about your limits) even though she probably feels like she is a horrible unloveable bum right now would be such a mitvah.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 3:15 PM on August 16, 2012 [20 favorites]

I think people are being really callous. I would never kick a close friend with a six year old out on the street. I think your first step should be helping her get some sort of free counseling. This will make it easier for her to kick the pot habit. I like the suggestion above to reach out to your mutual friends to see if they can help share some of the burden. I would communicate to my friend that she can stay with me as long as I see she is making tangible steps to find a job and a new place to live, and that she is respecting my house rules.
posted by timsneezed at 3:16 PM on August 16, 2012 [8 favorites]

There are options other than Children's Services. For instance, I've volunteered with Safe Families for Children in the past. They connect parents in crisis with pre-screened families able to temporarily host children while the parents maintain full custody and work on whatever they need to work on. If they're in your area, I couldn't recommend them enough.

There are also forms of kinship care available depending on where you live.

It's your home. You have a right to say whether smoking pot there is okay or not and you are absolutely not responsible for the choices your friend makes.
posted by shesbookish at 3:29 PM on August 16, 2012 [4 favorites]

After the first time she smoked pot in our house, we asked her to stop and she completely apologized, agreeing to not use it in our house again. [We're pro-legalization of marijuana, but have several valid reasons for not allowing it in our house.] Well, our friend broke her promise in less than a week, and has used pot in our house 2-3 times a week since. A few weeks ago, when I caught her using pot again, I asked her about it, and she said she felt incredibly guilty about breaking her promise; she also said she didn't want to give it up until she's working & has an apartment again.

Even if she is not an addict, she is (at least in some ways) behaving like one. She is choosing drugs over her daughter having a safe place to live. She is unable (or unwilling) to stop smoking pot in your home. She lied about her drug use. In addition to depression, it sounds like she may also have a substance abuse problem. It is unclear how you know she was "only" smoking two to three times a week in your home after you told her not to. If this number is based solely on her word, she is likely lying about that too. If you don't want drugs in your home, then she shouldn't be living there.

If a woman is choosing any substance over her child having a roof over her head, she is not acting in the child's best interest. If you have the resources, perhaps you could offer to let just her daughter stay with you until your friend was able to get back on her feet. Alternately, might there be other friends or family that the child could stay with temporarily?
posted by TheCavorter at 3:36 PM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

If I am reading it right, you don't object to her usage but actually smoking in your house. So it would be okay if she could hike down to the creek or ride her bike to the park?

If so, maybe she didn't understand or made some incorrect assumptions. You could take a last shot at talking to her in a very plain speaking way: Marijuana use is okay (off property), actually lighting up in our house is not okay.

If she insists she must smoke in your actual house, then there is no confusion and she has made her choice.

With all that said, I have to wonder how ready someone is to start a job search if she can't even stop long enough to pass the inevitable drug screen. But that's for another day!
posted by 99percentfake at 3:55 PM on August 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

My suggestion is that you start talking to her NOW about her plans and that if she has to stay past September 1, insist that she have a plan in place for how she's going to get herself into a housing situation AND that she stop smoking marijuana in your home if she is going to stay there. And, mean it. The fact is that you've already been enabling her -- she's been smoking pot in your house a few time a week for months and you've only now given her an ultimatum? If she was only staying for the summer, why is she only just now applying for housing? She likely doesn't take you seriously. I think one way to do that is to be pretty active about helping her get out of your house and get back on her feet. At the very least, consult with someone who works with people in her situation and see what they suggest and what YOU are comfortable with.
posted by sm1tten at 4:32 PM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Agree with the comment about passing a drug test. Even though you sometimes can can clean your system within 24hrs, it's best to stay clean for a month or so before drug tests. You may want to mention that.
Also encourage her to see a different doctor or change medications.
Help her look for jobs.
If she seems to be getting worse, she may need to see a doctor to determine if claiming disability should be an option. Since she has been working for 20 years, she potentially could receive enough benefits to support herself.
My sister recently dealt with this and my cousin (and kids) ended up moving to her Mom's place. She still isn't working and its been 2 years.
posted by KogeLiz at 4:35 PM on August 16, 2012

Friend or not, it's important to remember that you are not responsible for her well-being and security; that is her responsibility. Do not feel guilty for taking whatever steps you need to for your well-being and security. I have lived with friends suffering depression on more than one occasion; it can be very, very hard - for everyone. But you gotta take steps to protect yourself. It's fine to recognise there are limits to the kind and amount of help you can offer, and it's fine to require her to move out.
posted by smoke at 4:46 PM on August 16, 2012

I'd advise you to not claim that she has an addiction (or make decisions based on whether she is one or not, unless you're using the term loosely like "videogame addict" "shopping addict" "snipe shooting addict"). To call her a drug addict or to think of her as one is a factually controversial statement to make and might muddy the issue.
posted by angrycat at 5:48 PM on August 16, 2012 [4 favorites]

I wonder if she doesn't actually think you're going to kick her out because she has a 6-year-old and nobody wants to be the asshole who made a child homeless.

I unfortunately don't know what the hell to do about that either--unless you keep the kid until she finds a place, but I don't know the legalities of that.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:28 PM on August 16, 2012

i think your friend is self-medicating (unsuccessfully) for her depression by smoking weed. i do not think your friend is just really lazy and she figures, hey, i'm getting free rent, i'll gamble with my own life and with the well-being of a six-year-old so i can have fun being stoned and watch tv and stuff. no, that makes absolutely no sense.

your friend is in big, big trouble. she's got a serious illness and she's not getting treatment for it because she can't afford to. i hate to be a downer, but if she's not getting competent therapy and regular followups with a competent psychiatrist, those public aid pills she was handed might as well go in the garbage. they're obviously not helping, and if they're lulling your friend and her support network into thinking that she's getting real medical treatment, they're actually hurting her a lot.

the problem is, your house is not a hospital, and it's not your job to fix her. her attempts to cope break your house rules and are not ok. there may just not be much you can do for her, and she may lose her child and/or her life. nonetheless, you can help her out a lot just by staying out of denial. everything she does, and everything you help her do, should be focused *intensely* on getting her real medical care, and real social support. she's in deep shit, and it doesn't help her to either minimize the seriousness of her situation, or to blame it on her supposed moral failings (not that you are, i'm just saying). yes, it's still ok for you to tell her she has to leave, and it doesn't make you a bad person.
posted by facetious at 7:58 PM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just wanted to comment that this:
she also said she didn't want to give it up until she's working & has an apartment again
sounds like a problem to me.

One of the reasons that people are so apt to become depressed when they lose their jobs is that they lose their sense of achievement and mastery, which are crucial to mental health. Getting up and going to work every day, even if it's at a job you dislike, gives your life structure and purpose. Smoking pot does not help with this, and in many situations contributes to apathy and aimlessness, and so I suspect that pot smoking maintains the depression or makes it worse. While I can completely understand that your friend doesn't want to let go of something that is comforting to her in a difficult time, I would be concerned that her attempts to feel better this way make it harder for her to actually get better or improve her life situation. I take the point that smoking pot may take the edge off dark thoughts (including suicidal thoughts) but pot is not an antidepressant and in the long term I suspect it's not helping the situation.

In this light, I think thehmsbeagle has some good advice further up, and I also second those who have suggested investigating whether your friend can get some additional free or cheap therapy. If not, your friend may be left to overcome this on her own, and self-help in the form of books ("Feeling Good" is often recommended) and physical exercise may help. I doubt that pot will help in this endeavour.

I'm not sure of the legal situation where you are, and whether you can get in legal trouble for allowing someone to use illegal drugs in your home, but if this is the case (or even if you're just concerned about being wrongly accused because there are drugs in your home) I think you are right to insist on no drugs in the house. You can't help your friend if you lose your job, and that's a perfectly plausible outcome of a drug conviction, depending on your work. I would maybe be willing to give a friend the chance to change their mind about leaving, but I don't think I would change my mind about no smoking pot in the house, and at this point you may not be willing to believe her if she says she won't smoke it in the house. If she's prefers to leave, you probably can't stop her, but if she stays, I would encourage you to be realistic about her ability to change while she's using pot as a coping mechanism, especially if that's her only strategy.
posted by Cheese Monster at 8:15 PM on August 16, 2012

I'm just really struck by how odd this behavior is. Not the fact that she refuses to stop smoking completely, but the fact that she refuses to step outside for five minutes when she wants to blaze?

I understand that depression can cloud logic and self discipline, etc. But it seems that there's more to it than just depression. She needs housing for her daughter. You have graciously allowed both of them to stay free for several months, and she responds: "I'm going to smoke in your house whether you like it or not, so there".

Does she seriously not realize that it's possible to smoke outside?
posted by WhitenoisE at 8:37 PM on August 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Depression or not, this sounds like a self-perpetuating rut. It's not just that she's smoking in the house when you asked her not to: it's that she's a perpetual houseguest in training. She doesn't have a place to move to, doesn't have any work, paid or unpaid, and doesn't seem to have a plan to get out of this situation. I'd bet that if you let her stay and accept the terms that she's setting (she and her daughter get free room and board, and she sets the rules of the house) she'll still be living with you next year, and the next year, and the year after that.

If she won't make plans, then you need to.
posted by jrochest at 10:22 PM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Urgh. I am in equal parts immensely admiring your kindness... and glad I'm not in your shoes.

Agreed with the views that to the extent that you can help her and her daughter find another place to live, that's the best short- to medium-term option.

Independent of how we got to here, based on the information provided, the idea of choosing to pursue action that might reasonably result in the girl being separated from her mother, CPS getting involved, etc., is profoundly disturbing.

(Much respect for your human decency and patience.)
posted by ambient2 at 8:41 AM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

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