Helping a Depressed Son

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Reader’s Question

My biggest concern right now is that my son smells horribly of body odor, and he doesn’t even smell it anymore. I believe he’s just used to it now.

Even after he takes a shower and puts on deodorant (with antiperspirant) he still smells. His clothes have been washed, but he still stinks. He doesn’t take a shower very often, maybe three in a two-week span. He also doesn’t brush his teeth or groom himself. He says it’s not a priority to him, he isn’t bothered by the smell, and he doesn’t care how others feel about it.

I’m sick and tired of him being in my home, but there’s nowhere else for him to go. He has no friends, and our family members have their own problems and can’t take another one on. He’s home 24/7. He doesn’t work or go to school.

I filed for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) a year-and-a-half ago, and I’m still going through the appeals process. I’m hoping to put him in a Residential Treatment Facility once he is finally approved, if I can even find one. I always hear of them for minors.

As much as I love my son, I can’t stand being in the same room with him.

He clears a room the minute he walks into it. I can’t have people over because its embarrassing.

His psychologist has made no progress with him in the year that he’s been treating him.

Psychologist’s Reply

Lack of attention to or care about personal hygiene can be a sign of depression. Your son’s apparent lack of interest in much of anything could be yet another symptom. People who are depressed often get so weighed down by their internal misery that they stop caring about ordinary daily tasks, like showering. When people start avoiding them because of this, the depressed person takes it as further evidence of their sad life. Thus, depression can be like a feedback loop that will only end if you get it out of its groove by shaking it up a little.

So far it sounds as if your son has been allowed to do what he wants without consequences. If you want things to be different, this must end. A ‘cure’ for depression is action, so perhaps he needs some boundaries to push him in the right direction. For example, you could tell him that the conditions for his room and board are that he must look for work, get out of the house for a specified number of hours per day and he must shower and brush his teeth at least once a day. Of course, if you give boundaries, you must specify consequences and these can be very difficult to enact. If the boundaries are going to work, then your son needs to know that you’re serious and that he will prefer to do as you say, versus incur the consequences which, unfortunately, may need to include getting him somewhere else to live. Although it may seem harsh, the consequences have to be severe enough that he is willing to push himself until he gets to a place where he can lead a happier and more fulfilling life.

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Toward that end, it seems like a different psychologist is in order. If the one your son has now has not made any progress with him for a year, then he needs to find someone with a different approach and a better chance of success. Sometimes different therapeutic techniques can be helpful, so consider giving another psychologist a try. If your son is willing, perhaps the two of you can talk with the new psychologist about other methods of assistance.

I know all of this sounds very difficult, and it will be. However, the alternative is maintaining the status quo, and that doesn’t seem like it’s been pleasant for anyone.

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