My brother needs help

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

My brother is 22 and I am 18. When he was back in high school he suffered greatly from depression, insomnia and very, very violent outbursts. Under my parents request he went to see endless doctors and psychiatrists. They had all diagnosed and prescribed him something different. My brother never really admitted he needed their help and hated taking medication, to him it meant he was crazy. Not to mention all of the side effects.

That was some number of years ago, and he has been off medication for a number of years. My family and I have tried to convince ourselves that it was a teenage rebellion phase. I’m not too sure we were ever really convinced.

In the last couple of months (although it’s not nearly as bad) it’s been a little like déjà vu. He can be depressed and violent and manic. I consider me and my brother extremely close. We had never ever had problems until lately.

For the past few weeks my brother is on my case 24/7, picking fights and getting very angry with me. Every little thing I do sets him off and he literally loses it on me. My parents have demanded that I be patient and walk away from him. I really have tried this approach but when he yells at me for 10 minutes over watching TV in the basement, I feel my blood boiling.

My parents are getting extremely angry with me because I try and stick up for myself. I know not to retort with yelling and name calling, I just believe it is important that he sees another person’s side of things. I am sick of tip toeing around my house, constantly catering to my brother. I know they are really just trying to protect me and to prevent things from escalating but I am not just can’t take the name calling and putdowns.

It kills me that my parents are mad at me for not walking away. They do not know how it feels to be someone’s punching bag. I am just so fed up with living like this day in and day out. My parents tell me that has going through a rough patch at the moment and he needs to get back on his sleeping schedule before we can make any progress. When does this rough patch end, its already been a couple weeks. I want my brother to take action now because I don’t know if I can take anymore of this, I feel like its greatly affected my moods and happiness.

A: When one member of a family is suffering, everyone suffers. Your parents are doing their best to love your brother through whatever this “rough patch” is about. Because they see you as the healthy one, it may be that they have lost sight of the fact that you’re only 18 and that you are suffering too.

A couple of thoughts: First, you can’t convince your brother. You can’t make him take care of himself. You can’t make him see your point of view. He’s in the grip of whatever is troubling him. All you can do is tell him clearly that you won’t stay when he loses it and that you will leave. Then do it. Go to a friend’s house. Go for a walk. Go do something that is healthy for you.

Secondly, when reading your letter, I wondered if anyone has asked if your brother is drug-involved. Sometimes what looks like mental illness is actually caused by drug abuse. If this hasn’t ever been talked about, maybe you can encourage your parents to check it out.

Finally, however much you want to help, you and your parents can’t make your brother get treatment. You can go to family therapy for yourselves – and you probably should. You all need more support and you could probably benefit from talking to someone who is experienced in mental health issues both to figure out what is going on and to decide how best to handle it. The counselor can give you some practical advice about how to support your brother and how not to lose sight of the needs of everyone else in the household. Ask your family doctor or another professional who knows your family for a referral.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Aug 2009

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2009). My brother needs help. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 1, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2009/08/06/my-brother-needs-help/