Dear Penny: My Daughter is Depressed and Not Working. How Can I Help Her?

A woman moves her head back and forth in motion meant to represent depression.
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Dear Penny,

My 35-year-old daughter is unemployed. She failed out of a graduate program two years ago after working on it for 10 years, and says she has been too depressed to work. She didn’t work during grad school, and in the time since, she had one job for about seven months and quit because she hated it.

I gave her financial support and she also used up an inheritance of about $500,000. I am reluctant to provide further support until she’s willing to work or (if she’s so disabled by her depression) to apply for disability. However, now she is mooching off an older sister and not speaking to me because I have insisted she get a job. She says she'll either kill herself or live in a car when she has to leave her sister’s place. The sister set a deadline that is now four months away. I am panicking and don't know what to do.

— At the End of My Rope

Dear End,

I’m sorry for the situation your family is going through. Mental health is a challenging issue and can be difficult on those with mental health concerns and those who care for them.

To support your daughter through mental illness, listen when she shares what she’s experiencing, take her seriously when she talks about things like depression and suicide, and, above all, remember she has to make her own decisions. The National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) shares resources for supporting a loved one, with the reminder that “support is not control.” “We can support and encourage our family members. We can’t, however, make their treatment decisions for them.”

(We shared some mental health resources privately when the letter came in, and we’ll share those at the bottom of this column, as well.)

A person is only eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits if they’ve previously worked a job covered by Social Security. The program usually comes with a five-month waiting period, and the agency’s definition of “disabled” is quite strict. Filing a claim would likely require a medical diagnosis of depression and an extensive history of treatment, either of which may or may not be right for your daughter.

Neither you nor your older daughter need to feel obligated to provide financial support if you don’t feel able or you don’t feel like it’s the best way to help your daughter. If you want to help in other ways, here are some resources you can guide her toward:

  • The National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) can connect you with support groups for people living with mental illness and for their families. Find their online resources and search for a chapter near you at
  • Housing assistance through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (
  • Individual Placement and Support (IPS), a form of supported employment for workers dealing with mental illness, including depression.
  • Remote work, which is a better fit for some folks, depending on mental health needs, because it offers flexibility, comfort and environmental control that can be hard to get in an in-person job. Browse The Penny Hoarder’s Work-From-Home Job Board ( to find options that span industries and experience levels.
  • Freelancing, which might offer even more flexibility and autonomy than other remote work (though it requires self-motivation, which could be a challenge for someone suffering from depression).
  • Medicaid, a state-managed health insurance program that could help her get any mental health care she needs. Also look for clinics and organizations offering free or low-cost therapy in your area.

In Crisis? Call 988 to connect to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

If you or a loved one is considering self-harm or harm to others, call 988. This lifeline connects callers with a trained mental health professional immediately.

Dana Miranda is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance®, author, speaker and personal finance journalist. She writes Healthy Rich, a newsletter about how capitalism impacts the ways we think, teach and talk about money.