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How can I help my depressed brother?

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My 19 year old brother may be clinically depressed. He does not want to take any direction in his life. He does not want to do the typical things that a teenager would normally do. Meaning, he does not want to get a job. He does not want to finish college (he wants to quit). He does not want to get a driver’s license. In fact, he doesn’t seem to think that these types of things even matter.

He is a very intelligent person. He reads quite a bit, mostly philosophy now. And in doing so, he has become very contradictory in his thoughts. He talks in circles and says things such as: “Nothing matters…” and “It doesn’t matter what I do…” He seems to have an answer for everything and seems afraid to admit when he doesn’t know something. He hardly ever smiles. He doesn’t form his opinions or take a stance on anything. He just mopes around and looks very sad all the time. He never has anything positive to say.

This has been ongoing for a few years now. At first, my family and I thought that he was making various excuses for not trying due to a fear of failure. But as time passes we wonder if it’s not something more than that, perhaps a chemical or emotional difficulty he is having. I am very worried because nothing that I or my family suggests seems to help and I think we may be going about it the wrong way. If he is in fact having an emotional or psychological problem, can you provide some advice as to what approach to take with him, i.e. talking with him about it?

How can I help my depressed brother?

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Approach him with compassion. Say to him, as a family if possible, that you have noticed that he does not seem happy, motivated or interested in making a life for himself. Tell him that you all are concerned about him and his well-being and suggest that he seek help.

Based on what you have described to me, he does seem to be experiencing some sort of depression. I am not sure exactly how your brother will react to your family’s concerns and the suggestion of a counselor but it is about all that your family can do in this situation. It will be up to your brother to get help and if he is not motivated to do so, there is little that you can to make him go.

According to the Healthy Place website, there are three ways to beat feeling a lack of motivation due to depression, which may be a more useful approach in conjunction with therapy.

1. Identify the Essentials When you’re depressed and lack motivation, you may need to adjust your ideas about what is essential and what isn’t. Doing the dishes is essential; polishing the faucet isn’t.

2. Break Up Large Tasks Into Smaller, Easier Ones Okay, so the kitchen needs cleaning. There are dirty dishes everywhere. But it’s such a huge job when we’re depressed that we let it go and it becomes much worse. And this just serves to make our depression worse because we feel lazy and no good. So instead of telling ourselves, “I’ve got to get this whole kitchen cleaned up,” we should break it down and say, the first thing is to unload the dishwasher full of clean dishes. But this is even too much, so we tell ourselves, “okay, the only thing I have to do right now is unload the silverware.” This is a job we can usually get ourselves to do because it’s short and easy and requires only a bit of our valuable energy. Once we’re done with the silverware, we can leave the kitchen and collapse on the couch until the next time we go to the kitchen for something and break off another small chunk by unloading just the bottom portion of the dishwasher. By doing things this way, it allows us to at least get started on our immediate tasks. Granted, it takes a bit longer using this method, but it’s better than not doing anything at all.

3. Be Positive about Even the Smallest Victories In mental health recovery, any small step should be celebrated. Use these victories to encourage and remind yourself that you can indeed overcome one step at a time. You’ll be able to say, “I know I can do it because I’ve done it before.” When depression causes a lack of motivation, know that you can still beat it.

Your parents could stipulate that he cannot continue to live in the house if he refuses help, and this may act as leverage into getting him into to see a counselor. Your family can also consider seeing a family therapist and getting his or her guidance on how to live with a family member who is clearly in need of help but is not motivated to get it (if this ends up being the case). Maybe your brother would be interested in participating in the family therapy; this would be encouraging.

Talk to your brother as a family, maybe try bringing his friends into the situation and suggest that he talk to a counselor. Best of luck to you and your family.

How can I help my depressed brother?

This article has been updated from the original version, which was originally published here on July 29, 2017.

Therapists live, online right now, from BetterHelp:

Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist and Assistant Professor of Social Work and Forensics with extensive experience in the field of mental health. She works in private practice with adults, adolescents and families. Kristina has worked in a large array of settings including community mental health, college counseling and university research centers.

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2019). How can I help my depressed brother?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 3, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 23 May 2019 (Originally: 29 Jul 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 23 May 2019
Published on Psych All rights reserved.