Psych Central

How can I help my depressed brother?

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

Q. My 19 year old brother may be clinically depressed. He does not want to take any direction in his life. He does not want to do the typical things that a teenager would normally do. Meaning, he does not want to get a job. He does not want to finish college (he wants to quit). He does not want to get a driver’s license. In fact, he doesn’t seem to think that these types of things even matter.

He is a very intelligent person. He reads quite a bit, mostly philosophy now. And in doing so, he has become very contradictory in his thoughts. He talks in circles and says things such as: “Nothing matters…” “It doesn’t matter what I do…” He seems to have an answer for everything and seems afraid to admit when he doesn’t know something. He hardly ever smiles. He doesn’t form his opinions or take a stance on anything. He just mopes around and looks very sad all the time. He never has anything positive to say.

This has been ongoing for a few years now. At first, my family and I thought that he was making various excuses for not trying due to a fear of failure. But as time passes we wonder if it’s not something more than that, perhaps a chemical or emotional difficulty he is having. I am very worried because nothing that I or my family suggests seems to help and I think we may be going about it the wrong way. If he is in fact having an emotional or psychological problem, can you provide some advice as to what approach to take with him, i.e. talking with him about it?

A. Approach him with compassion. Say to him, as a family if possible, that you have noticed that he does not seem happy, motivated or interested in making a life for himself. Tell him that you all are concerned about him and his well-being and suggest that he seek help.

Based on what you have described to me, he does seem to be experiencing some sort of depression. I am not sure exactly how your brother will react to your family’s concerns and the suggestion of a counselor but it is about all that your family can do in this situation. It will be up to your brother to get help and if he is not motivated to do so, there is little that you can to make him go.

Your parents could stipulate that he cannot continue to live in the house if he refuses help, and this may act as leverage into getting him into to see a counselor. Your family can also consider seeing a family therapist and getting his or her guidance on how to live with a family member who is clearly in need of help but is not motivated to get it (if this ends up being the case). Maybe your brother would be interested in participating in the family therapy; this would be encouraging.

Talk to your brother as a family, maybe try bringing his friends into the situation and suggest that he talk to a counselor. Best of luck to you and your family.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 29 Jul 2007

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2007). How can I help my depressed brother?. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 21, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2007/07/29/how-can-i-help-my-depressed-brother/

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