David Coleman Column: My son sleeps until 3pm, refuses to go out and has given up on life
Published 29/04/2013 | 09:30
I am looking for advice on how I can encourage my son to get help for what seems like depression. He has trouble sleeping and does not go out socially to meet friends. He completed a college degree, but did not get any work. He seems to have given up looking for a job.
We live on a farm and sometimes he helps out, but mostly he will not get up in the morning. It could be 3pm to 5pm when he gets up.
He will eat his breakfast at that time, and soon afterwards eat a dinner and then watch TV or play computer games for the evening.
When the rest of the family are going to bed we encourage him to go to bed, so he can get up earlier. He will often stay up watching TV until four or five in the morning. We try to talk to him about getting help, but he refuses to admit he has a problem.
He is often in a low mood and gives us smart answers when we talk to him. The whole family is finding it difficult to live with him and this is going on for about two years now.
He is not earning and would not qualify for a social welfare payment as the family means would be over the limit. He will not go to our GP or counselling. What can we do to help?
A little bit of tough love might be more effective
WHAT a difficult position for your family. On the one hand, it must be so upsetting and frustrating seeing him so stuck. Yet, on the other hand, it seems like there is nothing you can do to unstick him without appearing callous and unsupportive.
He may well have depression and this may have led him to become so withdrawn, reclusive, lethargic, and trapped. Or his lifestyle and daily habits may have led to him becoming depressed and hopeless.
In many ways, it doesn't matter which caused the other, as the net effect is that he is now quite isolated, has skewed his circadian rhythms, and has become locked into very unhealthy patterns of behaviour.
He is also quite unlikely to develop any motivation to change himself. He is caught in a very negative cycle of behaviour, where he is withdrawing from the world, and limiting his opportun-ities. This is followed by a likely sense of hopelessness about his future and a further withdrawal.
You can't make the changes for him either. All you can do is try to show him why he needs to change, and give him ideas about how he can change positively.
One crucial aspect of that change is counselling to support him along the way.
You sound like you have done a lot of encouraging and gentle persuasion, but to little positive effect. Instead, he becomes dismissive and cynical when you try to help.
I wonder if, therefore, a little bit of 'tough love' might be more effective. Becoming active again, being outside, and being involved socially in communal activities is vital to help him get out of the rut he is in.
However, I don't think he will be motivated to get out of the rut without a push.
At the moment, it is very easy for him to live the lifestyle he is choosing. There are no demands placed on him, and no expectations of him, or his behaviour.
Naturally, as an adult, he may feel that he can no longer be told what to do. However, as an adult, he also must take responsibility for himself.
He sounds like he made some effort to get a job when he finished college, but has stopped trying now.
I think you should give him an ultimatum. As he doesn't earn money to contribute to the family, then it isn't reasonable for him to expect continued free food and lodging.
So, in addition to going for some counselling, he needs to work on the farm for his keep, or work outside the family to pay for his keep.
He needs a clear message that if he chooses to do none of these, then he can't expect to have use of the facilities of the house (like having meals cooked for him, his clothes cleaned, use of the TV or the internet).
Naturally, both of you parents need to be prepared to follow through on this.
While this may seem harsh for your son, and difficult for him initially, it will mean that he has an opportunity to act like an adult and regain some self-respect and internal motivation.
As things stand, unintentionally and unwittingly, by your concern and love for him, you may in fact be facilitating him to do nothing while his world and his hopes become further and further limited.
Email David at: firstname.lastname@example.org
David Coleman writes every Monday in Health and Living supplement
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