‘I am terrified that things with my son will return to where they were almost 20 years ago’

Tell Me About It: My son has a long history of depression but he pulled his life around. But now he says he and his wife are going through a rough patch, he has moved back in with me and I can see signs of relapse


I am widowed and just before Christmas my only child, a son who is in his mid-forties, arrived at the house without his wife or children. He said that his relationship was going through a rough patch, but did not go into any specific details.

During his teenage years he went through a few difficult years, with two serious suicide attempts. He has a long history of depression and as a family we went through a lot of dark moments. He had dropped out of school and isolated himself from all his friends and it wasn’t until his late 20s that he pulled his life together and completed his education, graduated from college and found his dream career, which he is very successful at.

In his 30s he met his wife and fell head over heels in love. She is the kindest person one could meet. Months have now passed, and I do not know what is going on. My daughter-in-law refuses to answer my calls. I called over to their house a number of times and she is polite and nice but will not discuss it with me. She asks that I speak to my son, but when I do, he shuts down completely.

So, I have no idea what is going on and I know that it is possibly none of my business. But I am terrified that things will return to where they were almost 20 years ago. He has missed a lot of work, is not looking after himself physically and I can see the signs of relapse. I had planned to visit my sister in the UK for Easter but decided against it, as I was afraid of what would happen if he was alone. His illness had a dramatic impact on his father who died of cardiac issues and I would go as far to say that the stress he endured did not do him any favours.

I do not know if I can cope with all of this again, but this time I am alone. I wish my son would talk to me, I do not even know if he is seeking any help and I wish that him and his wife would try to work things out but they are not even trying.

I feel helpless but it is worse not even knowing what is going on.




Firstly, you need to get support for yourself so that your own health and wellbeing does not deteriorate to the extent that you are unable to cope. It would be a good idea to let your son and his wife know that you are extremely stressed and that you are seeking help with this so that others do not suffer unnecessarily. If you do this, you are role modelling what to do when life becomes difficult and demonstrating the courage and decisiveness it takes to bolster your life at times of great distress.

Seek a counsellor, possibly a family therapist, who can help you to make sense of the past and who will support you in any interventions you may need to take (familytherapyireland.com). If you believe your son is becoming suicidal, then action needs to be taken and a trip to your GP, or indeed your son’s GP, might be called for. If he is acutely at risk, then the Gardai might be able to intervene and the right help sourced – this might be hospitalisation, GP care with a combination of medical and psychological interventions or extended family intervention. Your son’s wife is his next of kin and she may have vital information on his health and wellbeing that would aid any possible intervention. This will require some very pointed and targeted conversation and she may be willing to engage with you if you invoke the importance of him being a father to their children.

Does she know of her husband’s previous suicide attempts, history of depression and also his capacity for recovery? These are all essential pieces of information for her so that she can make good judgments about her marriage and her family’s future. Text her and ask her for a time and place to have an important conversation that involves both your futures. Ask her what the issues are that she needs to talk about and ask her for her experience of events since Christmas. At all times, keep the idea of success for the whole family in mind and keep your care and love for her, your son and your grandchildren to the fore.

Of course, your daughter-in-law may not speak to you, and your son may continue to be silent, and, in this situation, you will have to exercise patience until a crisis presents itself, as it is often only in crisis that people are willing to accept help or are willing to face the inevitable challenge that has been on their horizon for a long time. If the GP is prepped, you (with them) may be able to activate an intervention that will begin the cycle of recovery and you know your son has the potential to recover based on his previous experience in his 20s. However, you may have to manage your own anxiety, frustration and fear and this is where your own therapy will help.

It is of no help to your son that you become so overwrought that you are incapable of action and this, at least, is something you can attend to straight away.