How Do I Help Depressed Dad?

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I really need a lot of help with my father. He’s 65. My mother and him have been divorced for over 5 years and he is severely depressed about it. I can tell and so can other people.

He’s been drinking alcohol a lot sometimes. He drank so much one time he almost died from it and almost died from it again a year after that. He talks about the divorce a lot, daily, and has every single day for over 5 years. I hate it. It has caused me so much stress that I’ve had breakdowns, too.

I don’t know if he knows he’s depressed or not but he knows there’s a problem. If he’s not drinking, he buries himself in work and talks about women all the time, because he’s extremely lonely since it’s just me and him. I hate it. I see him a lot so overworked from burying himself in his work that he’s almost incoherent. I’m afraid for him and hate to see him do something so stupid as to keep drinking. All he does is put emphasis on how he still loves my mother, how she did him wrong, and how people in general have done him wrong his whole life. He is a really good, genuine person, and so I believe him but he won’t get away from thinking about that stuff ALL THE TIME. Mostly about the divorce.

I’m afraid one day he’s just going to have another bout with alcohol and just die, because I see the pattern every year. Every time I mention it he gets very angry with me and says that I dont know what i’m talking about or that I just need to goto another room and leave him alone. It’s a lot of stress on me. So much that I dont think I can handle it anymore mentally. I’ve seen a side of my father that i’ve never seen before, mostly in the past 3 years and it confuses me from my experiences with him when I was younger, he used to be such a calm person.

I dont know what to think and I dont know what to do. I want to help him but I kind of give up. I dont know what to do anymore.

A: This has been going on since you were 16? No wonder you’re getting burned out. At 21, you shouldn’t have to be your father’s keeper. You should be launching yourself into your own adult life. Your father apparently has no idea how he is keeping both of you stuck.

I think you’re right that your dad is depressed. He’s self-medicating with overwork and alcohol. Neither remedy is effective. In fact, they only are making things worse.

I can only suggest a few things: First, instead of being angry with him or trying to reason with him, simply tell him how worried you are about him and how his depression is affecting you. Don’t do this in a blaming or shaming way. Just tell him you love him and are feeling unable to make life decisions because you don’t want to leave him when he’s feeling so low.

Then, encourage him to get into some therapy to deal with his feelings of grief and anger about the divorce. Tell him you will go with him for awhile because you need help finding ways to be supportive of him. I’m hoping that his concerns for you as a father may matter enough that he’ll do this for you even if he won’t do it for himself. Hopefully, your therapist will be able to engage him so that you can turn his treatment over to her or him.

Finally, I strongly urge you to find a local chapter of Al-Anon. This is an organization that is connected to Alcoholics Anonymous and that provides support for family and friends of alcoholics. The program can teach you skills to help both your father and yourself. Most important, the group can give you needed support.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 18 May 2012

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2012). How Do I Help Depressed Dad?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 18, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2012/05/18/how-do-i-help-depressed-dad/