Dear Dr. Yael,
I have a daughter who needs help and is a young married adult. She is not coping and we are quite sure that therapy and medication will help her. However, she is very obstinate that she does not need help. In the past she has been on medication and she was significantly better. We love her husband who besides working, is a huge help to her with the children and with the chores in the house. We speak to her husband often, who confides in us that he is overwhelmed with helping her. Whenever we speak to her, she says that she is an adult and she does not appreciate our meddling. Please help us with this difficult situation.
A reader of your column
I read your question and my heart goes out to your plight. Unfortunately, it is difficult to help anyone who does not want to get help. Since your daughter is an adult, this compounds the situation. There are many reasons a person does not want to go for help. Sometimes people are in denial, other times they have anosognosia (ie: the inability to recognize you are struggling with an illness). Sometimes there is shame involved or it is just too emotionally overwhelming. Some people have trouble with the stigma of mental health issues and/or insufficient education about mental illness. There also can be fear of change and/or lack of skills or support to make the change necessary. However, there are steps that you, as a parent, and her husband can take. These suggestions may help you feel a little less powerless, a little less alone, and a little more hopeful.
The first thing to try to do is stop the power struggles (or judgments) with your daughter. It is important to listen to what your daughter is telling you without correcting her or trying to change her. Just listen and then summarize what you hear her saying. By listening and reflecting back what your daughter says, you are doing everything you can to understand her and her experience. This does not mean you agree with her, but by listening to her, you will begin to build bridges with her and she will begin to feel that she can trust you. Really understanding what your daughter is feeling (ie: empathizing) can rebuild trust.
It is also vital to remind your daughter (and yourself) that you are both on the same team. Even better, show her you are on the same team by working collaboratively and doing things like, listening without an agenda, partnering in decision-making, and setting boundaries when necessary.
Perhaps you can ask your daughter what she needs to feel supported. Maybe you can help more with the kids or take over to give her and her husband a break. Possibly, your daughter would be willing to go for psychological help to help her sort out some day to day issues that are bothering her or to solve some issues she feels she is facing with others. Maybe she can even go for help to learn how to get along with you better or maybe her husband can ask her to go for help with him to improve their marriage? Once she is in therapy, a good therapist can help her gain insight and learn problem-solving skills. If she absolutely refuses to go for help, maybe you can encourage your son-in-law to seek professional help to help him feel less overwhelmed and to support him. Of course in all of these situations it’s imperative to find a good psychologist who will help support and will not try to end or hurt any of your or your daughter’s relationships.
It is also important that you make sure your daughter knows you are there and not going anywhere, and that you love her unconditionally.
Sometimes people control others by their “weakness.” I don’t know your daughter, but from what you are writing her husband and her parents [you being the parents] seem intimidated to confront her since you are afraid she will not cope with any confrontation. However, this keeps you all stuck in a situation where your daughter controls the dynamics and does not get the help that she needs. Please try to speak to your daughter in a gentle manner to get the help that she needs. If she doesn’t want to listen, please try the other suggestions above. Hatzlocha in this very difficult situation, and may Hashem give you the right words to say to help you get through to your daughter!