Coping With A Sibling’s Depression


Dear Expert,

My brother became depressed, dropped out of college, and moved back home. Since he got back he’s been irritable, mean, and critical. He finds fault with everything I do and often lashes out at me. I know it’s a symptom of his depression and not entirely his fault, but he’s making it unpleasant for me to be home. I want to give him some leeway, but at the same time I want to stand up for myself. How can I get along better with him?

— Age 16

I’m sorry to hear you are having such a hard time with your brother right now. While depression is a very difficult condition to cope with, it can often be painful for the depressed person’s family as well. Watching someone you love suffer is hard; but feelings of empathy, compassion and patience can get colored by the behaviors that sometimes accompany that depression. In addition to feeling empty, unmotivated and sad, the symptoms of depression can also include anger, aggression and irritability. It sounds like this is just what you are experiencing with your brother.

Your letter is very thoughtful and measured. It seems that you really understand that most of your brother’s behaviors are beyond his control and not really personal. But I’m glad you are thinking of yourself as well! What you didn’t mention is whether or not your brother is being treated for his depression. Is he in therapy or on medication? You also didn’t say whether or not your parents know about his behaviors towards you. If not, I would urge you to speak with them immediately. Your brother needs help and so do you. Depression is a serious condition and if left untreated, generally does not get better on its own. While a family meeting or a conversation with your brother at a time when he is feeling calm may help him to see your perspective for the moment, outside, professional help is going to be necessary. Until the depression is properly treated, your brother’s erratic behaviors are going to continue.

In the meantime, please take care of yourself. This can include spending time with your friends, participating in school clubs, activities or sports or cultivating a new hobby. It is also important to make sure that you get the ongoing support you need to help navigate this trying time. If you continue to feel overwhelmed by the situation at home, you may find it useful to speak to a therapist yourself. If this is the case, please talk to your parents or a trusted teacher or counselor at school so they can help you get the support you need.

If you or someone you know is affected by a mental health issue, please visit our Resources section for links to organizations that can help.

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Dr. Aly Mandel is a clinical psychologist who has been in practice for 20 years, with a focus in child and adolescent psychology. As a mother of five kids, she understands the workings of the teenage mind on both a professional and personal level. She believes that a sense of perspective and a sense of humor are indispensable tools in getting through this tumultuous time.