Our son has been away at college and began suffering from anxiety attacks and depression about 2 years ago. He has had to drop out of college, lost his job and basically is doing a very poor job of making decisions in general. He lives 9 hours away. We have made numerous trips to get him help in his area, since he refuses to come home. He never follows through with any appointments we make and seems to be getting worse day by day. He currently has a prescription for Paxil, but I’m not sure if he is taking it on a regular basis. He is very angry and not the same young man he was a few years ago. What can we do as parents, other than sit and watch him self-destruct?
- Dr. Schwartz responds to questions about psychotherapy and mental health problems, from the perspective of his training in clinical psychology.
- Dr. Schwartz intends his responses to provide general educational information to the readership of this website; answers should not be understood to be specific advice intended for any particular individual(s).
- Questions submitted to this column are not guaranteed to receive responses.
- No correspondence takes place.
- No ongoing relationship of any sort (including but not limited to any form of professional relationship) is implied or offered by Dr. Schwartz to people submitting questions.
- Dr. Schwartz, Mental Help Net and CenterSite, LLC make no warranties, express or implied, about the information presented in this column. Dr. Schwartz and Mental Help Net disclaim any and all merchantability or warranty of fitness for a particular purpose or liability in connection with the use or misuse of this service.
- Always consult with your psychotherapist, physician, or psychiatrist first before changing any aspect of your treatment regimen. Do not stop your medication or change the dose of your medication without first consulting with your physician.
You are describing a familiar scenario and it is always painful one for parents. However, as much as I want to be able to tell you what you can do to help your son, I must admit, there is really nothing to do. In fact, my educated guess is that, the more you push him to get himself help, the more he will be resistant. Here are some of the reasons why I believe there is not much to do:
1. At age 23, your son is still in a protracted adolescent stage of life. It is protracted because the complexity of life today, adolescence is extended into what would have been considered adulthood just 50 years ago. For that reason, his fighting you over getting help is part of that adolescent rebellion.
2. I hate to suggest this to you because there is nothing much you can do about it but, the fact that he is so very changed from a few years ago, may have to do with drug and alcohol abuse.
Please understand, I am not accusing your son because I do not know him, and I am only putting forward a suggestion. However, dropping out of school and not returning home and with him so very angry, does hint at the possiblity of drug abuse, especially today when college often means exposure to this problem.
3. Like it or not and most of us parents do not like it, at age 23, your son is legally if not mentally, an adult and can make his own decisions.
4. As with many men, your son may feel ashamed of himself for needing help for depression and anxiety. This is a common problem and, if this is the case, he needs to be made aware that it is OK to need help.
5. Sometimes, people are resistant to getting help until they are feeling so miserable that they are willing to change and accept psycholgical services.
I do have a couple of ideas that you might try but, in no way can I guarantee results:
1. When you call your son, ask how he is feeling and, if he complains, gently drop a hint that help is available. Then, do not argue with him. Yoiu might also hint to going to psychotherapy is nothing shameful and, even ask him if he is ashamed. He should not be.
2. You could mention that, if he does not want to get help for himself, what about doing it for you and his Dad as both of you are terribly worred about him? A small amount of guilt can, at times, help. Besides, it is true that you and his father are extremely worried about him.
3. I would urge you not to finance him (my opinion). I can only assume that he is self supporting. If this is not true then there is no reason for you to support his stubborness or worse (drug abuse). He should get a job to support himself if he is not in school and wanting to live on his own.
4. If and when he is willing to go for help, he should see a Licensed Clinical Psychologist or Licensed Clinical Social Worker so that he can be properly diagnosed. It may be that anxiety and depression are not his primary problem. Perhaps there is ADHD, etc.
Do not give up hope. However, you need the patience of Job and the wisdom of Solomn, to deal with this situation.