I am desperately trying to help my sister, whose life is out of control with no way out that she can see. I fear for her mental and physical health. First, she is in a terrible marriage but her husband has health issues (many surgeries), so she feels she can’t leave. He has ruined them financially, anyway, so she has no money to leave. All she has of value is her house, and they are in debt. Her grown daughter has emotional/mental issues, so is living in the home, too, along with her young son. She can’t turn her back on them. She is the only stability in her grandson’s life. Also, her daughter is being sued for custody of her son, so they are dealing with legal issues. Our mother lives in the same town and was in a terrible car wreck, so my sister has most of the responsibility of caring for her, taking her to doctors, etc, since my other sister and I are in other states. She is the only way that my mom can go anywhere. She works long hours in a stressful job, and can only afford health insurance that covers catastrophic events. Her grown son, who also suffers from emotional/mental issues may have to move in with her, since he can’t seem to make it on his own. My other sister and I visit as often as we can, but it doesn’t take much stress off. I have suggested counseling to her, but she doesn’t have a spare dime for it. She can’t even afford a sliding scale. I listen and I pray, but I feel so helpless, and wonder how long she can go on. There is no light at the end of her tunnel. How can I find help for her? Thank you for any advice you can give.Worried that My Sister May Not Survive the Stress
Worried that My Sister May Not Survive the Stress
A: Your sister definitely has a lot on her plate, and I appreciate your concerns. I agree that your sister could benefit from some help. Even though her health insurance only covers catastrophic events, there were federal laws passed that mandate providing mental health coverage so I hope she has researched these options.
On the other hand, sometimes there are more services available to those who are experiencing financial hardship at local Community Mental Health Centers. It may not be completely free, but most agencies at least have discounted services or can connect her to resources to help in other ways.
However, most support groups (such as AA, Al-Anon, grief, domestic violence, and caregiver groups) are free. This may be an option for her to pursue as well, especially a care giver support group. Look for them at churches, hospitals, nursing homes or senior centers. Her local Area Agency on Aging may also have resources for your mother such as Meals on Wheels or transportation to medical appointments, which could help take some of the burden off of your sister. Have you or your other sister considered moving your mother closer to one of you?
As for the other issues, it will be up to her to set boundaries with her adult children, but you can support her in doing this. It’s also not impossible to leave a marriage amidst debt and medical issues. I’ve seen people do it and it is difficult, but not impossible. I worked with a client once who pursued a legal separation instead of divorce so that his physically ill wife wouldn’t lose her medical insurance, but he was free to move out and move on with his life.
My final note is somewhat of a pet peeve for me. I get very frustrated when people say that they can’t afford counseling when chances are that they have cable, eat out occasionally, or spend money on a vice such as smoking. I don’t know your sister and I am in no way passing judgment, but the cost of a therapy copay might be well worth it for her to get some support during this difficult time. Even if she only attended one session a month and supplemented it with a support group or some self-help books, it is a worthy investment.
I hope some of my suggestions can help. Feel free to share my response with your sister.
All the best,
Dr. Holly Counts