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Handling a Depressed Parent as an Only Child

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I’ve always been a very optimistic person…looking forward to all aspects of life and not taking anything for granted.  Recently, I moved away from home.  I am an only child and my parents have been having a difficult time getting along with me not being constantly around.  I do have a personal relationship at home so I come back frequently to visit my significant other and my parents.  My mother has always been the emotional type.  She cried often; even when I was younger.  However, recently her crying spurts have become unbearable.  She has some health issues and can’t get around as well as she used to.  She hates her job and on top of it, my dad hasn’t been incredibly supportive.  She also let the house go and now clutter is everywhere.  If she’s home, she sleeps most of the day, making my father more aggravated.  Then she cries if we ask her about it.  She came to visit me at my new house and cried randomly most of the time, even in front of my roommates.  She told me how she hates her life and how she’s going through a “mid-life crisis.”  She said she has no one to talk to because her mother is gone and she never had any sisters.  I felt bad because all I could think was how I don’t have any siblings to talk to and my mother, who is still with me, can’t spend time with me without crying.  It’s wearing on me.  I can’t take her to any event without her getting incredibly emotional.  I don’t want to be insensitive, but it’s starting to become embarrassing.  I’m getting to the point in life where major, wonderful events are going to take place like marriage, children, purchasing property, etc… and I want my mother there.  I have no one else, I need her there as a supportive figure and now I don’t know what to do.  I don’t know how to help her and now it’s putting me into a funk also.  I can’t talk to my dad because he isn’t an emotional individual and has other, current issues going on with his side of the family.  What do I do?  I told her maybe she needs to talk to someone and she won’t hear any sort of it.  She thinks she’s fine.  I can’t go on with this. (age 25, from US)

Handling a Depressed Parent as an Only Child

Answered by on -

A.

I’m sorry that you have found yourself in this difficult situation. Small families can be wonderfully close and intimate, but sometimes that can feel suffocating as well. It sounds like your mother is experiencing depression, though she may be in denial, but you cannot fix it for her. What you can do is be relentless about suggesting that she get some professional help outside of the family. If she tells you that she is fine, confront her with what you have described here, that’s it’s not normal to cry so much and sleep her time away.

If you really want to go all out you could make an appointment with a therapist yourself in your home town and request family therapy. If you (and maybe even your father) go with her, it may seem less frightening and she may be more likely to continue on her own. You can also encourage her to speak with her doctor about what she is referring to as a “mid-life crisis.” She may have enough trust in her doctor to get a therapy referral from them, or to try medication.

But, no matter how much you try to help your mom, you have to go on with your life and she needs to find ways to fill the gaps in her own.  She is an adult, and so are you. I know you said that you can’t speak to your father about it, but I disagree. He may have other issues going on but he is her spouse and thus should also be her number one support. At a minimum, let him know you are concerned.

All the best,

Dr. Holly Counts

Handling a Depressed Parent as an Only Child

Holly Counts, Psy.D.

Dr. Holly Counts is a licensed Clinical Psychologist. She utilizes a mind, body and spirit approach to healing. Dr. Counts received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Wright State University and her Masters and Doctoral degrees in Clinical Psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Counts has worked in a variety of settings and has specialized in trauma and abuse, relationship issues, health psychology, women’s issues, adolescence, GLBT, life transitions and grief counseling. She has specialty training in guided imagery, EMDR, EFT, hypnosis and using intuition to heal. Her current passion involves integrating holistic and alternative approaches to health and healing with psychology.

APA Reference
Counts, H. (2018). Handling a Depressed Parent as an Only Child. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 11, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2015/10/25/handling-a-depressed-parent-as-an-only-child/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 May 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 May 2018
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