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Aethelwine's avatar

What do you do when someone you love continues to threaten suicide and won't get the help they need?

Asked by Aethelwine (41381points) March 5th, 2012

My mom. She’s 76 and has been doing this for decades. Two of her four children aren’t speaking to her now because of her occasional angry outbursts; the other two of us are hanging on and reassuring her we love her, but apparently that isn’t enough because she still wants to kill herself. Mom posted on Facebook tonight: “goodbye”.

Do we ignore these empty threats she’s been doing for decades now? She’s weaseled out of appointments to get help in the past. She just won’t see anyone. What else can we do?

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15 Answers

gailcalled's avatar

This is a tough one. Can all four of you get together (maybe in a locked room) and agree to have an intervention with your mom? If all of you are on the same page, maybe that will give you more power.

What do you mean by “weaseling out”?

Has she given you reasons for her unhappiness and depression?

Do you feel she is manipulative, irrational or mentally ill?

This isn’t very helpful. Sorry.

Dog's avatar

First off, as one dealing with the decline of a parent, I send hugs.

Secondly- has she, or is she on anti-depressants?

gailcalled's avatar

^^ I must, must go to bed. I’ll check back in in the morning.

Aethelwine's avatar

@gailcalled My sister made an appointment for my mom to talk to someone about her problems. My sister went to pick my mother up for the appointment and mom suddenly didn’t feel well and couldn’t go. Mom constantly comes up with excuses to not talk with a professional whenever we give her the opportunity to do so. This is what I mean by “weaseling out”.

We do know her reasons for her unhappiness. Things from the past she just can’t let go of. She’s very happy one moment, then extremely worried and depressed moments later. I spoke with her today and she was fine. She then had an argument with one of my sisters and that set her off. She called my other sister (the one who still speaks with her) and told her she was going to take pills because no one loves her. (@gailcalled You aren’t being unhelpful. Taking the time to respond to my question touches my heart. That helps. Thank you!)

@Dog She has been in the past, but I’m not too sure if she is now.

wundayatta's avatar

You can’t make her do things, but I think one way to approach this is to support her in doing what might make her healthy; and not supporting her in unhealthy things. So you can continue to make appointments to take her to a psychiatrist and show up to bring her to the appointments. You would not support her in her suicide threats.

If she makes these threats, you can assess her seriousness to some degree by asking her if she has figured out how she is going to do it. Does she know how many pills she needs? Does she have enough? Does she have the right meds? You would take a very professional tone with her on this, as if you were a psychiatric nurse. In addition, you can ask her if she feels she is about to do herself harm? Or you can ask her if she would like to check herself into the hospital.

What she wants, as she seems to ask for, is love. She probably is feeling a bit useless and worthless and unneeded. The best way to counter this is to involve her in the activities of life. I’m not saying you should do this, just that it is one of the best ways to help people feel love. It is not always possible.

Now I feel like I’m becoming a broken record, but once again, this sounds like it could be bipolar. Your description of her going up and down so rapidly in mood sounds suspicious to me.

I would work as hard as I could to get her diagnosed. I would have her seen by a psychiatrist. I would then work to get her to take her meds, although that’s not the issue right now. So be a broken record and continue to urge her (without nagging and without complaining or being negative) to see if the doctor can help. You are concerned. You love her very much. You want to help her feel better and you know she can feel better. She deserves to feel better. Please let you help her. That sort of thing.

augustlan's avatar

I’m sorry you’re going through this, sweetie. I did, too, with my mom, for years. The trouble is, you can never be sure, in the moment, if she is serious. In my mother’s case, her suicide threats turned out not to be serious, and were manipulative cries for attention. (My mom has Borderline Personality Disorder, and this is par for this course in this mental illness.) What worked with my mom very well may not work with yours, so take this with a grain of salt… I stopped giving her the attention she craved when she became melodramatic/‘suicidal’. I basically told her, “I love you, I don’t want you to die, but I will not be a part of this any longer. You need to deal with this.” Then I no longer responded to her threats, and she stopped doing it (with me, at least). The thing that really helped me be strong enough to do it was getting therapy for myself. If you can see someone about this, please do. Even if she won’t get help, getting it for yourself can help you deal with it.

tinyfaery's avatar

What you are describing is attention seeking behavior. If she has been doing this for 30 years, it’s obvious she isn’t serious.

Sometimes the only way to help someone like this is to get them put on a psych hold. You’ll know immediately what you are dealing with when she suddenly starts feeling better.

She is in need of something and is calling out for help. Do it any way you can.

ninjacolin's avatar

Sounds like she has a 50+ year old habbit that won’t be shaken easily.

She’s getting old so.. “goodbye” isn’t even a threat so much as a promise coming soon one way or another. I’m a big fan of random. If you’ve tried everything else, maybe it’s time to try humor? Why not reply something like: “Make sure you leave me your car. I’m serious. I want that car and don’t soil the seats please. Call me and let me know it’s mine, thanks. I don’t want any trouble after the funeral. Love you, bye!”

Just a thought. No guarantees it will do you any favors but if you have to suffer it anyway…

cheebdragon's avatar

People who threaten usually dont follow through, especially if it’s been going on for years already. Sounds like she just wants everyone’s attention.

Buy her a pet, maybe a little toy poodle…..just something that she can care for, that really needs her.

jca's avatar

In my opinion, someone who really seriously wants to commit suicide will do so without informing people ahead of time. Informing people ahead of time means, and this is just my opinion, they want others to try to talk them out of it. I agree with what others have said that it sounds like attention seeking, manipulative behavior. I am sorry you have to deal with this. Having your own family to raise and then having this hanging over you must be tough. My advice is, if you can, try to find a good therapist to talk to for yourself.

wundayatta's avatar

I don’t think it is helpful to see this as manipulative. I think people have legitimate needs. They are lonely. They want llove, and they don’t actually think they are worthy of any of it. That means they can’t ask for it directly and they can’t work for it. They can only pursue the remaining options—i.e. suicide. I mean, that’s where you go when you are worthless. At least, that was where I went, and I know a lot of other people like that, too.

She is trying to get attention. She doesn’t believe she deserves it because she is worthless. It’s a trap that depressed people find themselves in.

What we/they need is to feel better about ourselves. Being given time and attention is one way. But meds and therapy are also necessary. You have to learn your own tricks and ways to cope with them. If she doesn’t learn coping techniques for her loneliness, this will not stop. She needs help to learn these techniques. It will be a long effort.

They have a choice. They can put the effort into trying to make a change that will enable the loved one to get out of depression, or they can deal with it as it has been going on forever now. The first takes a lot of effort, but could gain a big reward. The second takes a lot less effort, but is still draining. Only the people in that situation can decide where to put their effort and how much effort to put into it. It’s not easy, but it took a long time to get into and will take a long time to get out of.

And frankly, for a lot of families, the only way out is death. My mother-in-law got depressed and had four miserable years in home care and a nursing home before she died. This was before I got sick, so I didn’t understand what was going on. It is a shame when people decide they no longer want to live, yet their bodies carry on.

If we are loved, all day long, then it is hard not to want to live. But when we are old, people don’t have time for us as much. We are slow. It’s hard to include us. You have to make all kinds of allowances for our limitations. We have to come to accept the limitations and allow ourselves to be loved despite them. If not, we will think we are worthless and useless and should die.

It’s very tricky. I think the best thing to do is to prepare yourself for aging as you age. Try to build support systems while you are still capable. Discuss these things with children and friends and relatives. Once it is happening, it is so much harder to change.

Aethelwine's avatar

I just want to thank everyone for taking the time to respond. Your advice is very helpful and comforting. I really do appreciate it. Our family now has something else to deal with. My husband’s father is in the hospital and isn’t going to make it. We just found out this morning. My husband hasn’t talked to his dad in about 20 years (his dad doesn’t even acknowledge our children). Now he has to decide if he should make an appearance at the funeral for a man that was a terrible father and nonexistent grandfather to our children. :(

janbb's avatar

My Mom did this kind of thing for years and then died in her bed at 92. It is manipulative and attention-seeking behavior but also probably how she truly feels at that moment. It is hard to do but you have to learn to let it wash over you some and realize she will probably not act on it (almost definitely or she would have done so already.) And if she won’t go for help, you can’t force her. Don’t cut her off as your siblings have done but don’t let her get to you any more than you can help. If she starts being a misery on the phone, I would tell her you don’t want to talk to her when she’s like that and get off the phone. There is a lot of button pushing going on.

jca's avatar

@jonsblond: You have a lot going on right now and some really stressful situations. I hope you find comfort in the decisions you and your family make.

JLeslie's avatar

I am not sure if she is being purposely manipulative. But it might be a test. A test to prove her children don’t care enough to help her. These type of tests are bullshit in my opinion. When you don’t do whatever mysterious thing they want you to do in response to their threat, they feel more justified in their feelings that their family does not do enough for them, or love them, or whatever. They are proving to themselves they are right.

I saw a Dr. Phil once about a teemager who was a raging drug addict. When her mom did an intervention and had her taken away to rehab it was a horrific scene. She went kicking and screaming and raging. Once dried out, during the interview, she said having her dragged to rehab was the first time she felt loved. Gawd, that just pissed me off to be honest.

I think I am one of those people who is not likely to twist arms. If I had underage children I would drag them to get help, but for everyone else, they need to take some responsibility for themselves. Don’t get me wrong, if someone I loved was an addict, or suicidal, or needed help in general, I would be right their supportive if they needed help. If they articulated they needed help. But, just threatening suicide over and over again, probably I would start to ignore the threats after a while.

I also think some people are geniunely very depressed and suicidal and it is not a test or a manipulation. They are miserable, they don’t know what to do. Especially if they are sickly or have no quality of life, but it does not sound like your mom is physically ill? Depression does have a physical component, especially when it is severe. Depression can be physically painful, along wth mentally painful. Her threats of suicide might be wishes for death, but may not mean she would actively kill herself.

As far as your husband, in my opinion, he should just do what he feels is right for himself. Going to the funeral does not mean he is honoring his father, the funeral is for those who mourn. If he wants to be there to support other family members he should. If he wants to go to find closure for himself he should. If he does not want to go, because he simply has no desire to, he shouldn’t. My sister has cut herself off from our father, and I am sure she would not go to his funeral, she wouldn’t bother. It would not matter one way or the other to me, even though I think she is being too extreme about cutting him off. I don’t think anyone would judge her one way or the other if she did or did not go to his funeral, even though they have opinions about her not speaking to him now.

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