Suicidal Sister Resists Help

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

My younger sister, 23, is spiraling out of control and my family is at a loss at how to help her. She married this past summer (June 2012) to a young man of the same age who started medical school 2 months after their wedding, she moved to a new town several hours away from her family and friends. She is very lonely and extremely depressed with thoughts of suicide. She is unhappy with her job. She and her husband do not communicate and they only appear to fight and are angry with each other all the time. Many of her thoughts and actions have become irrational and unrealistic.

Many people have tried talking to her. in many different ways. We’ve tried the tough love, we’ve tried to give nothing but support but she refuses to accept our help. She has frequent panic attacks and we are afraid that she might act on her suicidal thoughts. She goes through periods where she ignores calls from family which leaves us concerned about her safety.

We have suggested a therapist, we have tried talking to her husband. She only seems to be getting worse. Any suggestions on how to help her?

A: Your sister is at the top of the stress scale: New marriage, a move, a job she isn’t happy with, husband in medical school, apart from her support system and now quarreling with the husband. No wonder she is having panic attacks. She is reacting to what for her is an overwhelming situation.

This is complicated. Since I don’t know the whole story, I may be only repeating what you and the rest of the family already know. As a married woman, her husband is the one who should be at the forefront. I’m concerned that one of the things the couple is fighting about may be your family’s involvement.

I do understand why you and your parents are so concerned. But this couple has to start working as a team during this difficult time or the marriage isn’t going to make it. They both need encouragement and support.

I think your best bet is to sympathize with her and her husband. Let them know that you understand why they’re having such a tough time managing their situation. Make sure they know that you are all on the side of the marriage. Suggest they get into couples counseling to help them figure out how to manage the multiple stresses they are under. Then cut back on the advice and give them lots of love. If you can give them a vote of confidence, they may rise to the occasion.

I wish everyone well during this challenging time.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2013

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2013). Suicidal Sister Resists Help. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2013/02/21/suicidal-sister-resists-help/