18 year old son not going to therapy or taking his medication

Floundering Mum

New Member
I typed the title of this thread into Google the other day and it took me to this wonderful site. In some ways, I'm embarrassed because my situation is still in its embryonic stages compared to some of you veterans of these situations. On the other hand, it was the first time in five years, I felt that hubby and I aren't alone.
My son has been moody and volatile since he was about four. He would get into dark moods and be disrespectful to all of us. In those days I thought he was seeking attention so used to diffuse it by ignoring the behaviour as punishing him or telling him off would escalate things. I felt something was "wrong" but that there wasn't enough to go on for a diagnosis since in those days all the darkness and volatility was only at home.
Fast forward to when he was 13. The darkness got worse and he began self-harming. When that happened I backed off even further with any kind of act of parental authority that might make the self-harming escalate. The truth is I was terrified and felt powerless. He agreed to see a psychologist who taught him to meditate. And he continued to self-harm.
When he was 14 he ran away from home to a friend's several times. I'm not sure what lies he told his friend's mother but she didn't let us know that he was there. He left notes when he went and was always careful to say that he "was not running away but going to stay at a friend's," which led me to believe I couldn't report it to the police. Climbing out of one's bedroom window at midnight isn't my idea of going to see a friend. I went back to my own psychologist because of this. When I told her I felt powerless, she told me I was. I didn't know what to do or where to turn. When he did move home, he gave us a list of conditions when it should have been the other way around. I was so pleased that he was coming home, though, that I agreed. The friend's mother was an alcoholic and the friend - a girl - came and lived with us for three years. During this time he settled down quite a bit but was still volatile and would self-harm sometimes.
He did Year 12 in 2016 and was very settled during that year. Very easy to be around with no bouts of self-harm. I must say here that the girl is no longer living with us but is still a huge part of our family. I love her like a daughter.
My son did very well in Year 12 and went on a Youth Movement gap year program overseas. Part of the program is leading with the movement for two years after the gap year. It was an expensive program and our local religious community raised funds for him, on the understanding that he would find ways to do things to "give back" to the community. He had a bad bout of depression when he was away and the head of the program told him that he could go to a psychiatrist or go home. It was all covered in the cost of the program. He didn't want to come home so he complied. The psychiatrist gave him a benzo which he uses sparingly.
He came home and then went on his first summer camp as a youth leader and was interstate waiting for the second one to begin when he called and said he was having suicidal thoughts and needed to come home. He was staying with his older sister, who told me that he seemed fine and she was shocked when he told her he would not be going on the next camp. Hubby and I flew him home at our own expense and I told the Youth Movement leaders that if we got him fixed up now, he would lead better in the future. I took him to the doctor who referred him to a psychologist and put him on anti-depressants. He saw the psychologist twice before telling me it was not helping and has now stopped his medications but is telling me that he's still on them.
He has done nothing for our local community, although people have been trying hard to offer him projects etc. I've been trying to keep people off his back out of fear it will worsen his mental health. But when I realised that we'd flown him home and got him help to no avail I was furious.
He has an outreach and two camps coming up and I'm curious to see if he actually fulfils his commitment. I will not be flying him home this time. If he calls and says he needs to come home, I'll have to say no. The problem is that I'm scared because he's not on his medications and not seeing the psychologist he may go too far with self-harm or attempt suicide.

I should add that he is a university student and financially dependent on us. He is respectful, polite, helpful and charming so there are currently no issues in regards to verbal abuse. He is, however, lying to us and is not fulfilling commitments he made. He has had a tenuous relationship with the true since his hit his teens. The lying is not new.


Long road but the path ahead holds hope.
I am so sorry you find yourself here but I am glad you found us. No matter what our parental struggles are they are heart wrenching and challenging.
I agree with your plan Health first and responsibility later. Can you try taking him to a communitycsuppoet member? A therapist? How long was he on his medication? Some times it takes a few try’s before the right drug is found for the right person.
Hang in there and know you are not alone.

Floundering Mum

New Member
I am so sorry you find yourself here but I am glad you found us. No matter what our parental struggles are they are heart wrenching and challenging.
I agree with your plan Health first and responsibility later. Can you try taking him to a communitycsuppoet member? A therapist? How long was he on his medication? Some times it takes a few try’s before the right drug is found for the right person.
Hang in there and know you are not alone.
Thank you. He believes he’s fine and, therefore, is non-compliant. He would tell me 1) that he wouldn’t benefit from counselling and 2) that he is still on his medications. I haven’t confronted him about him because he would accuse me of invading his privacy by checking his box of medications. His whole demeanour screams depression, which is why I checked his medications.


Well-Known Member
Your son, believe it or not, sounds like a much higher functioning version of my stepsons. Your son is at least attending university and has a polite and respectful relationship with you....that is more than my family can say at present. Every situation has a silver lining and perhaps yours is that your son does love you and is willing to submit to structure and routine in his life.

What is his diagnosis? From what you describe, his behaviors, especially the suicidal thoughts, sound to me like bipolar disorder. His ups and downs sound more intense than typical depression. My youngest stepson has this, and the first symptom was a suicide attempt that very nearly took his life. That was last fall.

It is so typical for mentally ill individuals to insist that they don't need medication or therapy and that everyone else is screwed up, not them. This is my oldest stepson to a T. And sadly we can do nothing to rid them of this fallacy.

In the US, 18 year olds are legal adults unless conservatorship is granted by the courts - I am not sure what the situation may be where you are. You probably can't force him into treatment. You may need to continue setting boundaries, which it sounds like you're very good at doing already, and letting him know you love him and will always help him straighten out when he gets in a jam.

The possibility of younger son eventually completing a suicide is never far from our thoughts and I'm sure the same is true for every parent whose child either attempted at one time or speaks of doing so. If he threatens, call the police. Here in the US a person can be hospitalized to maintain their safety if they are threatening to hurt themselves,

Keep posting, it helps and we are here for you.
Although I totally respect the helpful and caring spirit of BloodiedButUnbowed (truly, I do), please be very careful offering advice and giving "diagnoses" to people online. Unless you are a Physician or other Mental Health Provider, this is really unwise. There is so MUCH that goes into a true diagnosis, and criteria we have in order to make a formal Diagnosis of a patient. Tossing words around can, honestly, do more harm than good. Especially if it is a wrong conclusion. And even someone who is a Professional would hesitate to offer up a diagnosis without meeting the patient, getting full history, seeing bloodwork, and more...

I'm an MD, and I have patients that are told things by friends, neighbors, etc -- all it does is make my job harder, confuse the patient, and the family... and lead to increased non-compliance with medications. Bipolar is a serious disorder, but not all of them refuse their medications - that is a dangerous generalization. I'm sorry you are having such difficulty with your Son. Try a comparison to allergy medications. He wouldn't stop taking his allergy medications just because he felt better -- even knowing there is still pollen around. It's the same idea.

To Floundering Mum : my heart goes out to you! Sounds like he is one Super-intelligent young Man, first of all. Very manipulative. It makes it very hard to deal with. In keeping with what I said above, I have not evaluated your son, but you do give a rather good history in your thread -- I would defer (of course) to his treating professionals. However, has anyone mentioned a Borderline Personality Disorder diagnosis to you? The chronic Dysphoria, Self-Injury, and Volatility is highly suggestive. Add to that, the lying, "acting out" attention-seeking behaviors, and manipulation - and it is even more likely. Check out www.nami.org for more info on this. It's a good site. I would avoid that Benzodiazepine drug like the plague! Folks are prone to "Dual Diagnosis" (addiction+psychiatric disorder).

I will keep you both in my prayers, and your kids for healing. Blessings.


Well-Known Member
OHH, no diagnosis was given. I told OP what I thought her description of son's behaviors sounded like based on my personal experience. I never said "your son has xyz".

The stepson I referred to in reference to non-compliance with medications is not my bipolar stepson. It is a different child who is not, for the record, bipolar.

Perhaps reading more carefully and checking assumptions at the door would be a good practice moving forward.

Floundering Mum

New Member
I just realised that, in my fragility and stress over my son, I wrote the wrong age. My son is nearly 20. Ooops.
Thank you OHH and BBU for your words of comfort and wisdom. My "mama instincts" tell me that this is more than generalised anxiety and depression, and those two aspects, along with the rest may be part of a larger personality disorder.
I want to speak to him about lying about his medications because he seems so much worse but he will do one or more of the following things: lie further and gaslight me, use offence as defence or behave in an insulting and passive aggressive manner until he cools off. (Murmured insults and put-downs that, when asked to repeat, will say never mind.) I think that the only reason he's respectful is because he thinks we're stupid and gullible. And to be honest, I've been perpetuating that mistake for a long time to keep the peace in the family. Finding this site, however, has made me realise that I'm doing neither him, nor hubby and I any favours. We may be his "soft place to land" but he's not learning that there are people in his future who may call him out on his behaviour and make him accountable.
Also, I have my own issues with depression and anxiety, and this is triggering me. Furthermore, hubby has a heart condition. I feel for our healths' sakes, we need to say something. I can't make my son take his medications or go to the psychologist but I, at least, need to tell him I can tell by his whole demeanour that he is no longer on his medications and, by the looks of it, went off them suddenly, and that, if something happens and he needs immediate help, it's more likely we'll be calling an ambulance than dealing with it ourselves as that has proven to be ineffective.
Those are all hypotheticals, however, I don't know what to do because I'm so afraid of triggering him in some way. He's the proverbial sleeping bear you don't want to poke.


Well-Known Member
Floundering mom. Welcome.

I have a different view to add to the mix Personally I do not think the diagnosis at this point is the only important thing or even the most important one.

And first let me preface my remarks, which will follow by saying this. They apply to me, as much or more than anyone.

Our adult children are empowered by our fear.

They use it to manipulate us, to seek advantage and instrumental gain. This dynamic may put our children at greater risk to self harm and to use suicidal gestures impulsively as a power play.

One of my challenges has been to grow a spine. So far, I am in the invertebrate category.

That said, I will tell you what I really think. I think you need to pick your battles. (And I will underscore again what a hypocrite I am because I am so bad at this.)

First, the pluses: he seems to have tapered very much the self harm. He is respectful and polite and to some extent compliant. He is in university and apparently meeting his obligations. He has been involved in church activities, in a leadership position, it seems. His behavior is sufficiently controlled that he does not overly disrespect you.

I agree. I would do almost anything to get those benzos out of the equation.

So. This is my take. His commitments and follow thru with church are his business. Whatever consequences that accrue are his to bear. I would try very hard to stay out of this . I might tell him in advance that your funding his return home from his camp or mission is not an option. And then let him decide what to do and let him handle it. Natural consequences.

Likewise, the medication and treatment issue. Based on the law where I live, he is legally an adult and entitled to make decisions about medical treatment, absent your involvement. You know this. He is telling you he is an adult and wants autonomy.

He is exercising his right. Here too there are natural consequences. If indeed he requires treatment he will become ill without it. And require emergency hospitalization. I think your son has a right to flex his muscles, and see how he does without treatment. Yes. This is very, very hard for us. I know.

But honestly. I do not see your place to stand here.

My son has a chronic illness which is life threatenning if not treated. He is mentally ill and not treatment compliant. It kills me. I pressure him. To gain favor he temporarily goes back on the pills and then stops. This is extremely risky behavior.

By inserting myself--even my worry--i exacerbate the situation.

Like you, I have issues. Like your husband, I have health problems. My energies and life force should be focused upon my own happiness, betterment, contentment, well being.

Our adult kids are not helped by their becoming the center of our lives. Yet this is what I did. And do.

My son lies too. I have read that this younger generation has a different way of seeing lying, than do older people. But nonetheless, it seems your son may lie sometimes to keep you out of his business and to misrepresent when he feels what you do or ask is intrusive on your part.

Or perhaps that is what my son does. For sure that is what he does.

Here at conduct dsorders we learn (in my case, slowly, very slowly) that the only control we have is changing ourselves. Our outlook. Our expectations. Our focus.

My focus need be me.

My expectation: that my son handle the consequences of his behavior and choices. Even ill health. Or worse. This is not something I have control over.

Outlook: If I cannot hold onto hope for myself, in light of this powerlessness over him, the problem is in me and the solution too.

There is always room for gratitude. In your story, I read a lot of positive. In my own, it is harder. But I see that part of that is focus and will.

Thank you for indulging me on your thread. I will practice gratitude. I will try.

Take care.
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Floundering Mum

New Member
Thank you so much Copa for sharing your experience and compassion with me. I'm so so sorry about your son and the pain his illness and actions cause you. This is hard for me so I can only imagine what you go through.

I know deep down that I have to detach and let my baby make his own decisions but I'm so scared.

As for the benzos. I agree with all three of you. They were prescribed to him when he was living overseas, with no repeat prescription. If he wanted to get them here (in Australia), he'd have to jump through all sorts of hoops to do so.


Well-Known Member
Actually I woke up in the middle of the night wanting to qualify and expand what I saw as an inconsistency on my post: about the benzos!

You see, his restraint and care with them is one more strength he is manifesting. While he is doing it, however is no reason to have them.

But what can you do! This too is out of our sphere. Except to the extent you can train your focus on the glass half full. Instead of abusing them he is exerting caution. And more. He seems to thrive with responsibility and freedom. More reinforcement to not hover

Take care.

PS do I know how scary this is.