Behavioral Health Consultant, Trainer and EAP Manager

Seattle, Washington

My Son Won’t Launch

Question:

Our adult son is getting more and more disabled with his depression. Whether he has bipolar, schizophrenia or something else, we’re not sure, but he is so isolated he’ll hardly talk to anyone. His basement room is in shambles and he smells bad. He used to talk about killing himself but now he doesn’t even talk enough to let us know if he’s suicidal. We worry too about our granddaughter who is brave, but should be a little frightened to visit him on weekends. How can we help when he is so withdrawn? This has been a recurrent or cyclic problem by the way, but more intense each time.

Answer:

Your situation sounds excruciating. At the bottom line, while not ‘hovering’, it’s good that you can remain watchful, given that he’s been on such a downward slide. In some ways, he could be safer while he’s nearly debilitated. I would suggest that you remain vigilant when he begins to get activated again, even if he appears cheerful at first, as this is statistically a risky time.

Apart from his essential safety needs, the question is how to get him in for mental health treatment. If it comes to it, you can call the County Designated Mental Health Professionals in Seattle. These are the people who come to make an outreach visit and, if necessary, have the authority to impose a 72-hour mandatory commitment for safety, evaluation and treatment. In King County they are accessed by calling the Crisis Clinic at 206-451-322.

Your son would have to meet stringent criteria before he is forced into inpatient treatment – in his case, being either a danger to himself or what they call gravely disabled. The latter category is more likely to be met if you tell them that on your part you are not able to adequately tend to his essential daily needs. This might be the stance to take depending on how you would want to influence their decision. The CDMHP’s can at least make an on-site assessment and give some key recommendations apart from anything being involuntary, so don’t hesitate to call them if you feel you should.

I wonder if you could marshal as many others in your community and his as possible. Consider asking neighbors, his doctor (via phone), past friends of his, co-workers, his boss or former boss – anyone and everyone, to periodically make a brief visit, express their concern and reinforce your message that he needs to accept help. The idea would be not only that you get help in your role but that he gets the sturdy demonstration of support. I wouldn’t think that his daughter could be enlisted without it being a little too frightening and heavy a burden for a 15 year-old. I can only offer this as a tentative suggestion that needs to be heavily tempered with your own judgment. A key factor though would be that all those in the network come across as loving and supportive, not confrontational.

Finally, recall the speech given by flight attendants before takeoff. If the cabin loses pressure and the oxygen masks come down, you must put your own on first, your child’s next. In other words please take care to conserve your own energy and to get what you need to keep going for the long haul. You want to mean it when you tell your son you’re strong for him and are never giving up.

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