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You Asked: My Mother Is Severely Depressed

Dear Sugar,

I am at a loss with how to deal with my depressed mother. She has been plagued with depression her entire life but she only started medication eight years ago. She decided at some point last Summer that she didn't want or need the medication anymore because it made her feel so numb, so she weaned herself off without telling a single soul. Since she finally spilled the beans, I have encouraged her to go back on some sort of medication, but she's not budging.

Now my mom is an unmedicated mess. She has her doctor believing that she's able to manage this on her own and she can't. My concern with the doctor is that she has only been to see him a couple of times. How can he really know what's wrong with her? I have tried to broach this subject on more than a handful of occasions but she doesn't want to hear that she needs to be back on medication. Can I call her doctor? I know he can't share anything with me, but can I share information with him? What should I do?

— Scared For Mom Madison

To see DearSugar's answer,


Dear Scared For Mom Madison,

While your mother's desire to be off the medication is understandable, I agree with you that it's not the best idea right now if it's that clear that she can't handle this on her own. I'm actually more concerned that as someone diagnosed with clinical depression, she's not seeing her doctor more frequently. Although, I think your instinct to get more involved in your mother's medical care is correct, contacting her doctor should be a last resort as it sets up trust issues between you and your mother, and right now she needs to be able to confide in you.

First off, talk to your mom about seeing a new psychiatrist, but iterate to her that you want to find one who focuses on managing depression without medication. Once she's speaking with someone regularly, it's possible that she will learn how to manage her moods, but if not, a more present doctor is likely to see your mother's limitations and address them properly. If your mom's condition suddenly worsens or if she begins lying to her doctor again, then I think making the phone call would be appropriate. As you said, the doctor won't be able to reveal anything to you, but you can definitely explain what's going on to him. In the meantime, check out the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance for a resource on depression and to research doctors and alternative treatment methods. I wish you and your family luck.


Join The Conversation
Janine22 Janine22 9 years
Maybe she needs to change the type of antidepressant. Certain ones work differently for different people, and you never know how they will affect you until you try them. I would express to her how concerned you are about her depression and that you really want to help her to get better and be happier in any way that you can. Once she truly knows how worried you are, she might realize how bad her situation is. Could you also get other family members to do the same? I don't see why your mom would ever have to know that you called her doctor. Maybe your mom is so used to feeling this way, that she just doesn't know how dysfunctional she actually is. Sometimes a different perspective can help. Obviously doc has no idea how bad the situation is, and maybe your phone call could make all the difference. Consider counselling for yourself to help you deal with all of this, because it is a lot for any one person to handle. Good luck to you.
JaimeLeah526 JaimeLeah526 9 years
It's your Mom's life so she can do whatever she wants. It's better to feel something than to feel numb. She has every right to choose what she wants to do. You wouldn't want her telling you what to do would you? I'd just keep an eye on her when you get a chance and call her as often as you are both comfortable with. That will help lift her spirits as well as give you peace of mind.
LoveLearnHappy LoveLearnHappy 9 years
I, too, can completely understand where you are coming from. My mother suffered from DID/manic depression/suidical tendencies for most of her life. While her dissociative identity disorder has been healed for nearly 13 years (hallelujah!), she still suffers from occasional depression and suicidal thoughts. The only time I've been able to truly help my mother and get any relief for myself was when I finally accepted that she always will. And the hardest part was accepting that I can't cure her, either. My mother doesn't take medication and never has, so I've never had to deal with your exact situation. My form of intervention was to let other close family members who weren't aware that she was still in need of support know how bad the situation was. That was enough to open her eyes to the fact that her issues were no longer affecting just her life, but also deeply hurting the lives of those she loved. She immediately changed her way of dealing with her depression, and has been healthier since. Tell your mother exactly how much it hurts you to see her when she is off her medication. Don't worry about sparing her feelings. Be as blunt and honest with her as you can. She needs to know how her depression is affecting those around her. Hopefully, she'll be more willing to get it under control on her own. If that doesn't work, talk to her doctor. They need all the information they can to help her the best way possible. While I am not an advocate for bringing in 3rd parties to personal issues, sometimes it is the only way to let someone know how serious the issue really is.
ninjastarlett ninjastarlett 9 years
It is definitely time to look into seeing another doctor, or getting several professional second opinions on the matter. Dear gave you a great online resource and I recommend that you look through the site thoroughly. Since your mother isn't getting the attention she needs from the doctor she's seeing (or not seeing, rather), I really recommend switching to another one because the two of you will not be able to solve her depression. While the right therapist can do wonders, your support is very important too. Make sure to get a lot of feedback from your mom while you are researching and deciding on a psychologist; she has to really click with her/him to see results.
TidalWave TidalWave 9 years
I suggest she see a psychoanalyst. They do not (can not) prescribe meds. Right now she feels very out of control of her life, and being off the meds helps to feel that she at least some control left. If she doesn't want to be on them, then fine. But she should be seeing a doctor who agrees with that, and who can help her actually overcome her depression instead of just numbing it. Also, many anti-depressants are highly addictive. So when you see your mom as "an unmedicated mess", she might just be going through withdrawal... again, a good doctor can help her with this.
luluroller luluroller 9 years
Completely agree with Dear Sugar here. What I'm really happy to see is how much you care about your mother and the great lengths you would go to trying to help her. After all, it is hard for you to make the leap to intervene as well. As someone who has been medicated in the past for years and who functions quite well now without those medications, I would reiterate how important it is for you to respect your mother's choice to experience life in a different way. Get her to a doctor that respects her wishes, respect her wishes yourself, and never stop letting her know that you are only coming from a place of love in trying to help her. Good luck and best wishes.
maybeimnot maybeimnot 9 years
If for no other reason- she needs to stay on or stay off the meds. There are more complications than you could care to want to know in self-change of psychiatric medications. Your brain gets used to them quickly, and some types actually make you produce less, because you're getting so many from the drug, and then when you self med off, you take it away and are left with levels LOWER than before. Hence why you have the problems. I worked in the psych lab 2 years and saw this in both lab rats and in (voluntary) human clients as well. Not to mention the withdrawal symptoms. Please make sure she is careful!
sunnyheart sunnyheart 9 years
I think DearSugar's advice is spot on. There are many psychologists who are very supportive (if not encouraging) of life lived without medication, and your mom shouldn't feel she has to lie to her doctor out of fear to discuss this. A conversation with your mom and her doctor will benefit everyone! You will feel better, your doctor will be able to give her more informed care (and if he can't, get a new one!), and your mom will know you are thinking about her and want her to feel important and loved. There is never a wrong time to tell your mother you love her.
snowbunny11 snowbunny11 9 years
I can kind of see where you are coming from, my mother has schizophrenia AND bipolar disorder, and without her medication she would be completely unable to function. However, while depression is obviously a serious thing, I don't think it is unreasonable for your mom to experiment with other ways of treating it. She has been on medication for EIGHT years, I can't blame her for wanting to see what her life would be like without it. There is no "should" here, it's whatever your mom decides works best for her! That being said, she really should have more contact with a professional who can help her with her progress. A doctor could be a great resource for suggesting alternative treatments. So, encourage her to do that, but don't just nag at her to get back on her medication, she may have an illness, but she should still be able to control how it gets treated.
Bettyesque Bettyesque 9 years
I have several family members with emotional problems. It is a hard thing to deal with. There are alternative therapies such as biofeedback ... I would look into all the options first although sometimes medication is very necessary. The important thing is for you to be there and encourage your mother to be 100% upfront about what she is feeling. The severity of the moods could mean all the difference.
justanerd1975 justanerd1975 9 years
this issue hits close to home. I have been depressed and while I have never been through the process of getting medication I often think I should have. It might have made life easier. Or not, who knows. I guess the reality is that your mom gets to choose if she wants to take medication or not. I'm sorry for your situation, you didn't say how badly your mom is suffering, but I'm sure it's not fun for you seeing your mom depressed, however "big" or "little" her symptoms.
Stacey-Cakes Stacey-Cakes 9 years
I can completely relate. My mother is bi-polar and every few years (usually about 4 or 5 years ...starting when i was very young) she decides she is magically cured and goes off of her medication. And every time, it is led to a severe manic phase and each time, during this mania, she has ended up leaving my dad and not talking to me or my brother for months at a time. Much like in your situation, she does not tell anyone that she is going off her meds and even hides the behavior and we only find out after. I wish you good luck with your situation, but know from my own experience, you can not make them stay on the medication.
wiciltd wiciltd 9 years
Sooo....You'd rather your mum be a numb and not enjoying her life because it makes you feel better right? I have had depression since I was wee.. And I am constantly hounded by everyone who cares about me to go on meds.. But I'd rather feel my emotions no matter how extreme then feel nothing but artificial happiness... And I want to know how isn't she dealing with this? Is she suicidal? What?
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