My niece is having a lot of difficulties and I think there is a mental health issue. How can I help her?

My niece is visiting. She just turned 16 in January. She failed grade 9. Attended a special program to help her adjust/catch-up to grade 10 but became involved in an abusive relationship (that has thankfully ended). I’m not sure if she ever did successfully complete that program, she often tells a version of the truth or just straight out lies. Her lies often don’t make sense and the story can change in mid-sentence. During the time of the abusive relationship she was staying with this older boyfriend. My sister could not get her to come home or go to school. She says she cannot concentrate in school. My sister works long hours at a minimum wage job to provide for them. Her mom and step-dad are newly divorced and he has ceased all contact with her. Her Mom has also had her own difficulties. Since my niece has been visiting she’s run up my phone bill, stolen clothing (obviously has rummaged through my closets and personal drawers), had a tantrum when I insisted she not travel in bad weather, and left while my husband and I were at work the next day.  After going to great lengths to get her back home, she came easily, no questions and then chatted about her difficulties calmly that evening and the next day. She says her doctor thinks she may have bipolar disorder. Although I have suspected for some time that there may be a mental heath issue, my sister did not mention this. They don’t have a health plan so I think she was waiting on a list to see someone for help. How do I help my niece? I believe she needs immediate help and I am very motivated to try. My husband and I had decided that our family of two is enough for us. We do not and will not have our own children. He doesn’t want the responsibility but I feel I need to help her somehow. Finances are limited to include a teenager in our life but I want to help. What can you suggest?

She is lucky to have an aunt who cares for her. Your support will be important no matter what happens.

You will have to work out with your husband whether or not she can stay with you in the long run.  You may be able to work out some compromise.

Right now, help her get a mental health assessment. You can call the intake service to have her assessed. If you have difficulty, ask her doctor if he or she can refer her. You can tell her doctor what your concerns are. He or she may not be able to share with you what your niece has said. But the doctor can listen to you and act on your concerns.

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