Agony advice: ‘After four years my sister is near breaking point’

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Advice columnist and counsellor Fiona Caine offers her perspective on emotional issues. This week, suggestions for the family 
of an anorexic


Q I am very worried about my sister, who is a devoted mother, and her daughter, who is trying to overcome anorexia and bulimia.

It has been a heart-wrenching time for all the family and as I live several miles away, I don’t get to see them often, although we speak on the phone regularly.

My niece is 29 and a teacher. She’s very bright but is consumed with this illness which took hold following a diet that got out of control.

Her employers have been supportive and she is under the care of her GP and a psychiatrist.

She’s been ill for about four years now and my sister is near breaking point. What else can she explore to help her daughter and how can I help?

A It’s desperately hard to live with someone who has a condition like this.

Has your sister been in touch with Beat (, the eating disorders charity?

It has a carers’ forum and support groups that she could become involved with – the helpline on 0845 631 1414 will point her in the right direction.

Like alcoholism, this is an illness where the person affected has to want to be helped. Your niece probably believes herself to be coping as she is holding down a very responsible job, so all your sister can do is be supportive until she is ready.

As for your role, your sister needs support – someone she can turn to who understands what she is going through.

Arm yourself with as much knowledge as you can and be there for her either in person or at the end of the phone when she needs a shoulder to cry on.

I hope your niece finds a way through this illness and makes a full recovery, but be aware that she may always have an issue with food.


Q My nine-year-old daughter is going completely off the rails at the moment.

She loses her temper – and I mean she really loses it!

She hits, punches, throws things (happily only ever at me) and then almost immediately bursts into tears and is genuinely sorry. Is it her hormones? Is there anything I can do to stop this from happening?

A It may well be something to do with her hormones but it could also be frustration and she may not know for sure what she’s frustrated about.

It’s probably to do with being a bright nine-year-old who feels she should be growing up faster than she is.

She needs to try to talk through what’s bothering her, either with you or with another adult she trusts. You’ll need to be both patient and positive with her as it takes time to develop the skills involved in managing a temper.

The good news is, though, that almost every child can improve with the right support.


Q My son is 45 years old and has been unemployed for the last six years since he was made redundant.

I’m 76 years old and my husband is 74. Our son has been living with us over these past few years.

He’s been living on his savings which are now running out, so for the past two years he’s made no contribution towards the household. He owes us hundreds of pounds which we can ill afford, but he still won’t apply for unemployment benefit.

Surely he’s entitled to something, so is there any way we could force him to apply?

A I am sure there are benefits he would be entitled to but unless he applies, he will never receive them.

At 45 he’s too old for you to force him to do anything he doesn’t want to do, but as he’s worked in the past, he’s only going to be applying for what he’s entitled to.

Try to get him to understand that you are suffering financially. If he realises this, it might encourage him to do something.