I think your dad may be asking for help in the only way he can. The symptoms of depression include feeling helpless and hopeless. He’s stuck. He doesn’t think anything can help but he hates how he is feeling. The result is that all he can do is complain and make threats to hurt himself. Do take those threats very, very seriously. At some point, the internal pain may be too much for him.
The treatment that is most likely to be helpful is a combination of talk therapy and medicine. It can take up to 4 weeks for medication to start to work so you need a counselor who can give your dad and your family some much needed support in the meantime.
It’s very difficult to get help for someone who doesn’t want it. But there is something you can do. Make an appointment for yourself to see a psychiatrist and counselor to explain the situation and to strategize how to get your dad in to see the doctor. Find out what your state’s laws are about involuntary hospitalization.
Then do whatever it takes to get him to an appointment. If he continues to threaten suicide and if your state laws support it, take him to an emergency room for a crisis evaluation. Sometimes it takes a call for an ambulance. I’m not making specific suggestions here. I’m only outlining possibilities. You need to work with the psychiatrist to decide what is best, given what you know of your dad and the limits of the law in your state.
Health Guide Info’s website states, “When a family member will not seek help for depression, relatives should and must take the initiative to get them treatment. If you find yourself in this situation, take the following steps. Ask your relative why they will not seek treatment. Hearing their explanations may help you gain better insight into how to help. And, the fact that you are doing this may show your family member how much you want him or her to receive help. Begin with a check-up by a general practitioner. An appointment with a family doctor is a good place to start to rule out any medical causes of depression. Also, your family member may be more willing to see a general practitioner than a psychologist or a psychiatrist. Remember that your relative is low on motivation and energy, so you will probably need to make the appointment yourself. You may want to talk to the doctor first to inform him or her of your concerns. Accompany your relative to the appointment and take notes on information he or she may miss. Assist your family member in listing all of their emotional and physical symptoms to discuss with the doctor. As someone who sees your relative’s moods and behaviors regularly, you can acknowledge symptoms he or she may not recognize or be unwilling to divulge. Assist your depressed relative in finding a psychiatrist or therapist. If the doctor diagnoses depression and recommends a mental health professional, help to find the right provider. Finding a good and suitable therapist can be difficult, and this may take calls and visits to several professionals before one is chosen. Assistance making calls and researching providers is often necessary to help a depressed individual already lacking energy and motivation. When you have found one, be there at the first visit.”
Meanwhile, take care of yourself. You and other family members might want to see the counselor for your own benefit. It’s hard to stay strong for someone you love who is threatening to abandon you by killing himself. Even though your head probably tells you that you’re not responsible for his life, it’s hard to keep that perspective. It’s hard to keep telling someone you love that you love him when he rejects it. You deserve the support and guidance of an experienced counselor to help you get through this family crisis.
I wish you well.
This article has been updated from the original version, which was originally published here on January 19, 2009.