How can I help my depressed son?
anonymous Asks ...
My son has become isolated over the last decade or so and I believe he is depressed but I do not know how to help him. He is 32 now and he does not have any real friends or social life. He had a steady girlfriend that lasted for a few years after the end of high school but nothing since then. He comes over for dinner with us on Sunday nights. It used to be like clockwork but lately he has been skipping visits here and there. I have tried to get him to come over more often since we are retired and have lots of time but he says he is too busy with his programming work. This does not really make sense since he barley makes ends meet. Since he started coding at home in his twenties he has forgotten how to be social in the regular world. I suspect he is depressed since he seems apathetic about everything and he does not take as much care into his appearance as he used to. To be frank, it smells like he has not showered for days when he comes over. When I try to press him on how he spends his time he gets defensive and retreats into a shell and when I tried to get him to talk to someone and I said I would pay for it he got very angry and upset and left early. This was last week. I wish I knew how to help him break out of this but I just don’t. What is my next good move?
Penny Bell Says ...
It does sound as if your son is suffering from a mental health condition, possibly depression, and has been for some time. What you’re noticing now is that this depression seems to be more entrenched, and he’s becoming even more isolated. I can understand how worrying this must be for you, and how powerless you must be feeling in the situation.
Symptoms of depression include loss of interest in enjoyable activities, staying home more, withdrawing from family and friends, difficulty concentrating at work, feeling overwhelmed, indecisiveness and lack of confidence, sometimes increase of alcohol or drug use, loss or change in appetite, sleeping difficulties, feeling worthless, increased irritability and moodiness, and feeling unhappy most of the time.
Knowing how to help someone with a mental health problem can be challenging, as you have discovered. Your son may not be aware of the impact his behaviour is having on others, and talking about this may be a way to encourage him to do something about the situation. This should be done in a sensitive, non-accusing and non-blaming manner, using ‘I’ statements such as: “I’ve noticed that you’re not coming over as much on Sundays” or “I’ve noticed that you’re not spending as much time with your friends”.
Finding the right time to have a conversation with your son is important – when he is most comfortable and likely to be attentive, and you are less likely to be interrupted. It’s possible that he is feeling a great deal of shame and embarrassment about the thoughts he’s having, and this is the cause of his defensiveness. Reassure him that you have no intention of judging him, only helping him. You may wish to tell him you have found some reliable information which will help put things in perspective, which you could give him to read in his own time (there are some great articles here at Choose Help). If however you continue to experience his resistance to your offers of help, there may be a family friend or relative you could ask to raise these issues with your son.
Offering to go with your son to visit his doctor for a check-up could encourage him to seek help. Before you go to see the doctor with your son make a list of your concerns, including any questions you have, to be discussed during the consultation. Accompanying him to the appointment may also give you more of an idea of what you can do to continue to support your son whilst he is in treatment. If you cannot persuade your son to visit the doctor with you, it may be helpful to go on your own, to find out what avenues there are for your son and for you that are available to help him.
If your son refuses all offers of help then you can continue to support him, make information available and be prepared to discuss things if and when he is ready.
One thing that’s vital is that you take care of yourselves. Make sure that you find time for fun and recreation, to be with friends, and to spend quality time with each other that doesn’t have your son’s issues as the focus. Caring for your own mental health could also involve obtaining counselling for yourselves.
I wish you all the best in your efforts to help your son and the task that lies ahead of you.