Help me help my younger brother
September 16, 2005 8:51 PM   Subscribe

Help me help my younger brother… he is dropping out of college at twenty years of age (I’m 25). He is also non-communicative. Is this a warning sign or even an indicator of a potentially dangerous or otherwise significant event in his life?

The problem is that we have never been too close, though in the past couple of years he has become an entirely different person and we have drifted even farther apart, emotionally. This observation holds true from other perspectives – my parents get the impression that he does not want their emotional support either. It has been increasingly difficult and even frustrating at times to be shielded from his plans and emotions, especially because each of us clearly communicates our willingness to reach out and help him with anything, at all. Only, he never asks for help, nor does he divulge his emotions even after repeated attempts from all parties. He always says that he’s fine, but will deliberately disengage from conversations about himself by giving one word answers or by changing the subject.

As a deeply caring older brother, what can I do?

I know that dropping out of school is not necessarily a bad thing, but could it be a sign of something worse? Is he hiding something? Do I let it bother me? Am I making something out of nothing? What should my parents do?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (19 answers total)
It's possible something happened to cause him to retreat emotionally from you and your parents. But, unless you have some clear indicator that he's in some danger, there's not much you can do about it.

He's twenty years old, so he's an adult and must make his own decisions unless incapable of doing so. It really sounds like you and your parents have reached out to him, which is just what you should do, but you can't make someone talk to you or accept your help.

The only thing I can think of that you might try is physically going to see him. It's much harder to ignore someone who's at your door than someone who's on the phone. Or try to contact his friends, if you know any of them.

Have you Googled his name, to see if he's posted anything on message boards or LiveJournal or somesuch that might provide some insight into what he's thinking, and if anything's genuinely wrong?
posted by cerebus19 at 9:03 PM on September 16, 2005

You can't help someone who doesn't want to be helped. Let him make his own mistakes, and be sure that he knows he can come to you if he needs help.
posted by elisabeth r at 9:05 PM on September 16, 2005

Good luck, btw! I can imagine what you're going through. You're being a good brother.
posted by cerebus19 at 9:05 PM on September 16, 2005

maybe your brother is an introvert and an autodidact. If so, he's on exactly the right track.
posted by Satapher at 9:07 PM on September 16, 2005

Your 20-year-old brother's personality has changed over the past few years, and he avoids asking for help or discussing his emotions. And the abnormal part is...?

It's ludicrous to think anyone might have insight based on the general statements you've provided. Maybe there is something wrong. Maybe some folks will post anecdotes that might help. But in the meantime, if that's the only evidence you've got, I'd suggest considering the possibility that you're overreacting. Relax and let him grow up.
posted by cribcage at 9:18 PM on September 16, 2005

A really good friend of mine in college dropped out. Couldn't be bothered to hack the academics, some girl was fucking with him, and on him w/ his best friend &c.

I tried to help him stay in, after a couple of months and some success, he finally said fuckit and dropped out.

He's a designer at Sony entertainment now, married, and happier than he's ever been. College != success/happiness/american-dream.

anonymous - have you been to college yourself? Maybe see if there's anything you can relate w/ your younger bro' with. Just get him talking.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 9:38 PM on September 16, 2005

I dropped out of college at about that age, and it was the best decision I ever made. I second the "let him know you're there for him and back off" sentiment.

Has he ever given a reason for dropping out? Anything at all?
posted by trevyn at 9:41 PM on September 16, 2005

I went through a very stubborn phase when I was 20 and your brother may be doing the same thing. So long as you know he's not doing any sort of self-harm I'd suggest giving him some space. Do make sure to let him know that you are there for him in the event he wants to talk.
posted by Serena at 9:52 PM on September 16, 2005

A drastic change in personality,can indicate the onset of metal illness, drug addiction and any nuber of other 'normal' or harmfull states can also percipitate such a drastic change.

You sound very ernest in your desire to be supportive or even to 'step-in' if necessary. Have you considered talking to someone just for yourself? If you and\or your parents are at wits end about what to do, there are many options for your receiving professional support for how you are feeling and at least, a professional will be better able to recognize behavior patters that might indicate a situation that needs clear and difiniative action on your part. One conversation it might be good to have with a perfessional is that of family history of addiction or illness.

In the end you'll likely find that he is just being 20. But quitting school and becomming increasingly detached could very well indicate a more serious juncture in his life. My advice, once again, is to talk to a counselor yourself, to just pass it by him\her and see aht might come of it.

Best of luck . . .
posted by johnj at 11:18 PM on September 16, 2005

Please don't take this the wrong way--but is it possible he avoids talking to you simply because he doesn't like you very much? A couple of my friends are like that.
posted by ryanrs at 11:21 PM on September 16, 2005

I have a 21 year old college drop out brother so I can relate. There very well may be big things going on in your brother's life right now, but the biggest thing is that he's 20. He's trying to find his place in the adult world. He's also having to learn to deal with his family as an adult, so you guys wanting to take care of him and help him may not be well received. Support him, encourage him, do your best to keep the lines of communication open, even if there's lots of things you'd like to tell him. If there really is a problem, this will increase the likelihood that he will be willing to talk about it when he's ready. It's not a sure thing, but helping him feel like he's got an ally and friend in you will go a long way.
posted by wallaby at 3:38 AM on September 17, 2005

Well, my cousin went off the deep-end when he was 20. He acted a little odd and distant for awhile, failing school, nothing too awfully strange, then attempted suicide. He was diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic and its been rough ever since. In retrospect, he might have been giving off warning signs with some of the odd things he said that we looked quizzically at but didn't follow up.

I'm not, NOT, trying to alarm you, but it could be something more than his being introverted or bored. I'd suggest talking with him about pretty much anything HE'LL talk about and just listen to him and see if he's all there.
posted by codswallop at 5:40 AM on September 17, 2005

Not to scare you, but your situation sounds almost identical to mine. A drug and/or alcohol problem may be to blame.

About a year ago, my normally outgoing and smart brother (19) dropped out of his first semester of college, and told us he was moving in with a friend and was going to work for a semester. He was very distant with family and did come around unless my parents begged him to come over. He was also always broke.

About 2 months after he dropped out, a friend of the family tipped my parents off that they had seen him behaving really strangely and suggested that he had been under the influence of drugs at the time. My parents (both sets) confronted him about this, and he confessed that he had been getting high and drinking almost every night, and spent all of his paycheck on it. Unbeknownst to us, the mother of the friend he had supposedly been staying with kicked them out on the second night he was there, and he had actually slept in his car for a few weeks. He had then moved in with a teacher he was close to in high school, who allowed him to drink and smoke out in her home.

It began at his part time job, a pizza joint where after closing, the owner would lock up the place and sell the kids weed and let the underage kids drink beer from the tap, and let them party in the restaurant.

While my brother certainly is to blame for his own mistakes, I think a lot of his problems stemmed from being confused by adults he admired. His teacher and boss were people he looked up to, but they were not providing him any kind of real support system during an already confusing time in most kids' lives.

Luckily, by the time my parents confronted him, he was aching for help and seemed relieved. He was ready to get straight and was very open to the support our family gave him.

So, there is a happy end to this story! He moved back home, and under my parents' living-in-their-house-requirements, found a different job, enrolled in a local community college the next semester (which he did not like, but stuck with,) and now he has transferred to a university he really wanted to go to.
posted by saucy at 8:35 AM on September 17, 2005

At the age of 20 I began to rebel against the linear path that I was put on by my parents.

I was raised in a very strict environment, and was an only child to boot. I had gone to private school during elementary and high school (same school: 600 little girls), then on to college for two years, as is customary in Quebec, and now I was in university starting on a bachelors of arts.

And suddenly I saw a world of choices ahead of me, and it was overwhelming.

Perhaps your brother is at a similar juncture? Blossoming away from a very tight environment to one of limitless possibilities?

My advice to you, anon, is to keep the lines of communication open. Invite him to hang out with you - for example, ask him to come with you on a shopping errand. Or on a hike. Or on some other 'everyday' kind of event. Do this on a weekly basis - keep the lines open. Same with your parents.

The last thing you want to do is anything that smells of an intervention. If indeed he is - like I was - overwhelmed by the possibilities in life, then a gentle reminder that the family is still there is all he needs. Overwhelming him more will only push him away further.
posted by seawallrunner at 9:32 AM on September 17, 2005

Another vote for letting him do his own thing. Don't intrude.
posted by angry modem at 3:40 PM on September 17, 2005

nevermind, saw the reply.
posted by angry modem at 3:41 PM on September 17, 2005

My younger brother, like codswallop's cousin, started acting pretty distant in his mid-twenties, after leaving the Army at the conclusion of a tour in Europe. After returning home, he drifted from job to job, city to city, and was finally arrested for breaking a plate glass window in a Christian bookstore to get Jesus off the cross...

Paranoid schizophrenia often becomes manifest in a person's early twenties. Much higher rate of incidence in males than females. Schizophrenics often have trouble admitting they are having problems, since reality is become frightening and unpredictable to them. You probably can't help him, if he doesn't want help, but you can be on the lookout for symptoms and changes that are making him more estranged from family, freinds, and life.
posted by paulsc at 7:41 PM on September 17, 2005

Speaking as someone who is similarly concerned about a sibling the same age & same situation, with perhaps a few more warning signs, I'd have to nth the suggestion to be loving, but willing to give the proper space. Of course, this is hard for me because we have absolutely no common interests. So if you have common interests, or even chances to spend time together (which I do not with my own), sieze those chances. And good luck.
posted by artifarce at 10:21 PM on September 17, 2005

It's probably just normal developmental processes going on, but this is also exactly what happens when people come down with schizophrenia.

"Are you hallucinating - hearing voices coming from people who are not present?" is the question I use to rule this out. Most people will answer such a question honestly in my experience.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:23 AM on September 18, 2005

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