Parents can't see that their son is depressed

Originally Published: December 18, 1998 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: May 3, 2013
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Dear Alice,

I know you are very busy trying to answer all the questions you get. But I am so worried about my thirteen-year-old brother. He is on medication for depression and ADD. I don't think he was ever depressed before he began medications. Now, three months after being on the medicine, he is always moody and crying. I worry so much. My parents think the medicine and doctor are saints because his grades have improved since the medicine. I have practically raised my brother and I know him better than my parents. I spend days and evenings with him and can see that he has severe depression and extremely low confidence.

What can I do when my parents won't listen to me?

Dear Reader,

This is tough. It's hard to witness loved ones struggle with mental health issues. Your brother is a lucky guy to have you in his life. Here's the deal: Depression is a disease that many people are unfamiliar with or unwilling to consider when thinking about the health of a loved one. It's possible this is what is going on with your parents. In any case, you may want to evaluate the attention your brother is receiving from health care professionals: Is your brother's mental health consistently monitored by the doctor who prescribed him his medicine? Or by another qualified professional? Does he see a counselor or therapist on a regular basis? Sometimes, drugs given to treat depression and ADD/ADHD (attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder) produce negative side-effects, but changing the dosage of these drugs, or the use of different medicines, can achieve a more desired result. Counseling, along with drug therapy, is often more beneficial than medication alone. Although you are the person closest to your brother emotionally, it's very important to enlist professional help to confirm what you believe to be your brother's health problems.

Here are some other questions and issues to consider:

  • Have you talked privately with your brother about how he feels? Why is he moody and crying? Is he having an easier time at school? Has he noticed a difference — good or bad — since he began taking the new medications? Thirteen can be a rough age; excessive moodiness and crying, however, is not normal.
  • What else could be contributing to your brother's depression? You say you've practically raised him. How much quality time and attention has your brother received from your parents in the past? Now? Any chance family counseling could be helpful?

Once you've fully assessed the situation, you may want to try talking with your parents again. If you haven't in the past, you can tell them you'd like the three of you to set aside some time for a conversation. Calmly give them your assessment and ask them about their perspective, too. Let them know why you're so concerned. Remember to keep the focus on what can be done to help your brother.

If they remain unreceptive to what you have to say, then you can consider other avenues for help and support. Who will listen to you? A close family friend or relative? A counselor or teacher at your brother's school? Ask her or him for advice, based on what s/he's seen in your brother and/or known about your parents.

You may feel alone in your concern about your brother, but know that there are others out there who care, too. Sometimes, they just need to know what's going on. And be sure to make time to take care of yourself in the process. To help your brother through this time, you need to be healthy, too. If you are a Columbia student on the Morningside campus, you can make an appointment with Counseling and Psychological Services by calling 212-854-2878. If you are on the CUMC campus, try reaching out to the Mental Health Service at 212-305-3400 for an appointment.

Wishing you and your family all the best,

Alice