Depressed Sister

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

My sister is now 25 years old. Since she was born, she has had a very difficult personality. As a child she would have terrible tantrums, screaming out loud, and not giving up until my exhausted parents (frequently) gave in. In school she would often procrastinate on studying for tests. When the deadline was very close she would panic and cry, and scream for help, and make everybody in the house feel terrible with her drama. In college she gradually learned to study in advance, and these dramas were less frequent. However, after finishing college, she could not search a job. She argued that it was because she didn’t like her professional area, but I know the main reason was because she was too scared to try. On her only attempt (where the job was guaranteed) she ended up crying in front of the employer and never went back. Two years later she finally gathered the courage to get a job – as a cashier, on minimum wage. In this same period she went to live with her boyfriend. She would call us home frequently, crying, exposing her fears and anxieties (related with the job and with her also problematic relationship). Sometimes she would demand our attention several times in the same day, crying for hours at the phone. Now her work contract is over (not her fault, as she was a good employee), and her relationship is broken. Right now, at 3p.m. she’s lying in bed, depressed.

I really want to help her, and I try my best. In the past 2 years I’ve been advising her to see a psychologist. Now she recognizes it would be good to her, but she always procrastinates on making an appointment, and invents obstacles to not doing so. She is very pessimistic, and (apparently) doesn’t have any interests in life. She doesn’t take care of her health either. She eats unhealthy, or doesn’t eat at all. She doesn’t follow doctor’s instructions, whenever she has a health issue.

I try to help her, by listening and being patient, but I have my own problems, and sometimes it’s just too hard. It’s like she sucks the energy out of us. My parents are exhausted too. I’m very concerned about her. Can you please give me some advice on how to better help her? Thank you so much.

A: Your sister is lucky indeed to have such a caring family. Many people would have given up long ago. Unfortunately, her moods and drama have dominated your family so long that you are all exhausted. She has come to expect that everyone will give her unlimited attention whenever she demands it. It hasn’t helped her. It has cost everyone else a great deal.

For that reason, I suggest you stop talking to your sister about what she should do. You already know that she’ll continue to procrastinate in spite of your best efforts to get her to a psychologist. You already know that she isn’t motivated to help herself as she should. Do yourself a favor and drop the argument. It’s only frustrating you.

Instead, I think you and your parents should get into family therapy. You all deserve to live your own lives but I know you won’t abandon her. You need some help to find a way out of the current situation that will also provide her some support. An experienced family therapist can help you all find new ways to manage your sister and better ways to take care of yourselves. Please understand that I’m not saying that you and your parents have done anything wrong or that there is anything wrong with you. I am simply suggesting that when good people have run out of options, it is helpful to get new eyes on the situation.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

Photo

 

 

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 17 Dec 2012

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2012). Depressed Sister. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 30, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2012/12/17/depressed-sister/