How can I care for my brother, who has mental health issues, from a distance?

A fellow caregiver asked...

How can I take care of my brother who lives alone far away ? He has a very successful academic track through out and immediate after his Doctorate in Physics, got a faculty position in a very reputed college in CA. He was and introvert from his early childhood and always looked at life from a different angle. Because of his immense depth of mind and seclusive nature, he could not socialize himself. Now this has been proved fatal. He wants to mix up but can't. He is suffering from loneliness, depression, social withdrawal and sometimes panic attacks. He is not even able to continue his job at this moment. He has lost every interest in the positive sides of life. He is under medication and sleeps almost all day long. Please help me to help a brilliant mind. Can web cam contribute something? Can I do anything that will really help a person who , through out his life tried to help others without any self-interest? Please answer me.

Expert Answer

Kay Paggi, GCM, LPC, CGC, MA, is in private practice as a geriatric care manager and is on the advisory board for the Emeritus Program at Richland College. She has worked with seniors for nearly 20 years as a licensed professional counselor, certified gerontological counselor, and certified geriatric care manager.

It is difficult to provide care for a relative who lives far away. From what you have said, I suspect your brother has had mental health issues most of his life; his tendency to isolate himself socially and to look at "life from a different angle" and seclusive nature indicate that he may always have been mentally unstable, and that these tendencies have escalated in recent months.

You said that he is taking medications. That means he must be under a physician's care. I suggest that you contact the physician and ask if he knows the extent of your brother's decline. If your brother was awake and working, and now is unable to function, that represents a significant decline that needs medical attention.

You may need to be prepared to petition that he be hospitalized in a psychiatric facility for observation, even against his will. This will give mental health doctors an opportunity to evaluate him and prescribe medications that will help him regain his balance.

In addition to this formal attempt, you can also help by letting him know that you care about him. Call frequently; leave messages if he does not answer. Send greeting cards telling him that you love him, write letters reminding him of fun vacations or funny times with your family. People who are severely depressed often believe that there is nothing good in life, no reason to get out or eat or take care of themselves. By telling him often that you care, you are reminding him that there continues to be purpose in his life. By reminding him of funny times or sending humorous cards, you cause him to smile. Humor is healing.