“My Mother is Severely Depressed and Won’t Get Help!”: Tips for Getting Your Loved One the Treatment She Needs

Major depression is a common mood disorder but a very serious mental health diagnosis. It causes persistent sadness, loss of interest in activities, and other difficult symptoms. Depression is not something that goes away or gets better on its own. It is a real condition that responds to treatment. Helping a loved one understand and accept this can be difficult. Persistence, talking about mental health, presenting treatment options, and removing barriers to care all help get a loved one the professional treatment they need.

When my sister and I finally pushed our mother to get treatment for depression, we realized that we had all been in a state of denial to some degree. I think we always knew she struggled, but until I began to explore my own mental health, I didn’t understand. I didn’t realize some of the troubling ways she behaved came from depression.

By the time we were in our 20s, my sister and I knew that Mom was severely depressed. She took care of us for years and neglected her own health. She never got help and her moods got worse and more frequent. Initially, she resisted any kind of help. She didn’t even want to talk about it. But we pushed, and I’m glad we did. We just hope that what we learned can help others convince their loved ones to get the treatment needed to manage major depression.

Understanding Depression

One of the biggest hurdles in convincing Mom to get help was simply understanding depression and mental illness. She comes from a generation that doesn’t talk about these things. Not only does mental illness carry a stigma for many people her age, but since no one talks about it, she didn’t know that depression caused her symptoms and moods.

When I started getting treatment for anxiety, I talked about it with my sister. We started to realize that our mother probably had anxiety and depression, too. The first step in helping her get treatment was to talk to her about mine. Together, the three of us discussed my symptoms and how therapy and medications had helped me manage anxiety.

Then we researched depression. We helped Mom understand that this is a common but serious mental illness. We told her that women experience depression more often than men and that it affects all areas of her life. We also told her treatment is effective.

Talking About Difficult Subjects: Knowing When to Acknowledge

By first talking about my own anxiety, I believe we helped make it easier for Mom to start exploring her own mental health. But it was still a challenge. My sister and I noticed her moods get worse after she and our dad split up and got divorced.

I knew it would be hard for her to talk about this with us, but two years after the divorce, she had become withdrawn from her friends and severely depressed. The only interaction she had was with us, and that was only because we came over uninvited. She did open up a little and talk about what she had been going through since the divorce, but still found it hard to admit that she had depression or needed help. She assured us she would snap out of it.

Getting Mom Into Treatment

I firmly believe that talking about depression is the first, most important thing anyone can do for a loved one. It opened the door for Mom to begin to accept it. Alone, talking about it wasn’t enough, though. We faced an uphill battle that eventually led to treatment. Here’s what we did to help her:

  • We listened. At first, I think my sister and I made the mistake of lecturing our mother. It went in one ear and out the other. What really helped her open up was asking questions and listening. Once she started talking, she felt the relief of having someone who cares to listen to her. I think of it as the beginning of therapy. We helped show her how good it can feel to finally talk about these difficult feelings.
  • We sent her to her doctor. Our mom may have long rejected the idea of mental illness, but she has always been willing to take care of her physical health. We focused on that. She had some symptoms I suspected were related to depression: a sore back with no real cause and digestive issues. We convinced her to see her doctor for those things, and we asked him to bring up depression with her. He did, and I think it made an impression.
  • We found treatment options. Mom had been battling this mental illness for a while—we truly believe that. I could remember times as a kid when she would go into her room all day. At the time, we just thought she was tired, but now we understand it was the fatigue and helplessness of depression. She managed to function for so long, but then it got much worse. We knew that a residential program—somewhere she could really focus on herself for once—was best. To avoid putting that stress on her, we researched options and found the best ones for her based on location, cost, and other factors.
  • We answered all her excuses. My sister and I came into the discussion about treatment prepared. We had all the options ready to go, and then we had to confront her excuses: she had to go to work; she couldn’t afford it; she was too embarrassed. We helped her understand insurance coverage, talked about her rights for leave from work, and we promised to keep treatment a secret from other family members if that made her more comfortable for now.
  • We visited the treatment facility together. We understood that a lot of Mom’s reticence to get help came from fear. We convinced her to just go visit the treatment facility and promised she could say no. We just wanted her to see it. A tour and a talk with the staff helped ease a lot of her fears. She still wasn’t ready, but this step really made her see that treatment was not so scary. It wasn’t going to be the mental hospital and straight jackets she imagined.
  • We kept pushing and talked about what was possible. All of this work my sister and I put in to convince our mom to get treatment finally paid off. We set the stage and then ultimately talked about what she could gain from treatment: enjoying life again, losing weight and being physically healthier, getting back to her friends, and finding more purpose every day. We put it quite simply: stay as you are or take the step to live a better life and to be happy again.

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Supporting Mom in Treatment

Finally realizing that she couldn’t go on as she was, pushed our mother to the point of finally accepting treatment. The potential to finally get out of this funk, to experience less pain, to enjoy the things she used to—this is what helped us help her.

Once in treatment at the facility we found, my sister and I continued to support Mom. We visited when possible and participated in treatment when allowed. Family therapy really helped all of us learn how to communicate better. It helped me and my sister understand how to help Mom once she returned home.

Treatment for depression is hard for many people to accept, especially older adults. There has long been a stigma associated with mental illness and weakness ascribed to needing help. It was a long road of several months to get Mom into treatment, but I’m so glad we persisted. And so is she.

Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive treatment for individuals struggling with depression, anxiety, trauma, and other mental health issues. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Los Angeles program and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to lasting wellness.