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Auntie SparkNotes: How Can I Motivate My Brother?

Dear Auntie,

I need some advice as to how to motivate my brother. He is 21 years old and three years older than me. So he went to college his freshman year and half of his sophomore year and during his sophomore year he stopped going to classes altogether and got bad grades in all of his classes until he was finally asked to leave. That was a year and half ago and since then all he has done has sat at home and played video games. We don’t know why he did this and he won’t talk about it. He even had an interest in some girl and was going to ask her out, and he had many friends as well. So we are mystified as to why he just gave up.

My mother has tried to motivate him to go get a job, going as far as to search for jobs for him, but he shrugs it off. My dad keeps supplying him with money to get his games, and I know this is a problem but my dad won’t stop. He shoves it off like my brother will grow out of it and get back on his feet, but it’s not like he is helping the situation. It is getting out of hand. My brother never goes outside, and he doesn’t help around the house. My brother staying at home is tearing our family apart. There is more shouting and my parents are always fighting about how to handle it, and I’m stuck in the middle trying to play the mediator. I’m tired of coming home from school and always having to smooth the tension. I have my own life and having to deal with my family and all their chaos makes me not even want to come home. Please don’t get me wrong I love my family, just not when they make stupid decisions.

I’m about to graduate high school and I’m going to college. My brother and I are pretty close and he usually listens to me. So is there any advice you can give to help me get him on his feet and mend my family?

Well, yes and no. Unfortunately, Sparkler, I can make no guarantees; any advice I give you about how to help somebody who isn’t you is always going to be an iffy proposition, for all of the usual reasons having to do with what we can and cannot control. Your brother is the proverbial horse who has to drink the proverbial water himself—and you are the proverbial person who can only show him where the water is.

But with that said—and with the caveat, as always, that I am just a random lady who lives in your computer and therefore not qualified to make medical diagnoses—your brother sure as heck sounds clinically depressed.

And while you can’t force him to get help, you can take him as far as the waiting room of a doctor’s office where help is available… assuming he’s willing to go, that is, but it can’t hurt to offer. Tell him the truth: That he doesn’t seem like himself, that you want him to be happy, and that all he has to do is say the word and you’ll drive him to the doctor right now.

That said, Auntie SparkNotes is also duty-bound to point out that you really shouldn’t have to do this. Your brother’s transformation from a successful college sophomore to an agoraphobic video-gaming recluse, and his subsequent refusal to talk about any of it, has all the hallmarks of a textbook mental health crisis. He should have seen a doctor ages ago, and it’s honestly a bit weird that your parents don’t seem to realize that. Your family’s approach to this issue speaks to a troubling degree of cluelessness (or denial, maybe) about what you’re dealing with, and it’s going to create an extra set of obstacles to your brother getting the help he almost certainly needs.

For that reason, whether your brother agrees to be screened for depression or not, you may want to talk to a counselor yourself about what’s going on in your house—if only to make sure that you’re not carrying a bunch of unhealthy baggage with you when you set out on your own next year. You can encourage your family to fix what needs fixing, but you cannot do it for them, and you’ve seen how exhausting and fruitless it is when you try. So while you do your best to help your brother, don’t forget to help yourself, too. This is the time to accept the limits of your control, and learn to set boundaries that will keep you safe and sane. Make sure you do.

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