Dear Harlan: My dad is obese, and he refuses to do anything about it. He claims that he's doing something, but everyone in my family knows he isn't. I'm really concerned for his health, and I want him to be like that as well. What should I do to get him more aware of his health — before he has a heart attack?

—Desperate Daughter

Dear Desperate Daughter: Does he refuse to do something, or does he feel powerless? Maybe he's trying, but there's a medical issue or a food addiction. It's not like he wants to increase his risk of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, sleep apnea, respiratory problems and cancer. I mean, why would almost 33 percent of adults age 20-74 (according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2003-04 survey) who are obese risk missing out on life's moments, such as graduations, weddings and the births of grandchildren? The answer is that obesity can be beyond a person's control. It can be genetics, a slow metabolism or another medical condition. It might be a food addiction. Try this — tell him how much you love him and remind him of all the life moments you want him to share. Ask him what he's doing to get help. Ask him if he wants to get help. But he needs to want help. Like any disease or an addiction, there's only so much you can do to stop it. And this is the real answer — it's his weight. You can't control what he eats or how much he eats. He doesn't need to be ashamed by you — he needs to be loved. Figure out how to shift your thinking from anger to compassion. Consider reaching out for professional help if you can't manage these feelings. Perhaps this letter will be the thing that flips the switch and helps him (and others) get the help they so desperately need.

Dear Harlan: I'm 19 years old, and I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder today. I live in Florida, and I'm transferring to a school in Pennsylvania.

Now, a lot of people don't think it's a good idea for me to go so far away for school because I was just diagnosed; however, I think it'd be good for me. Do you think I'll be able to manage my bipolar in a new area? Should it stop me from taking such a big step? The school seems really supportive, but I'm still very nervous.

—Mood Swings Like Donald Duck

Dear Mood Swings: I think the next step would be managing your bipolar disorder. And then, the step after that would be managing life in college. While you're excited to go away, dealing with so much in such an unfamiliar place so far from home might not be the healthiest option.

There's nothing wrong with sticking close to home for a year and establishing a relationship with a mental health professional who can help you manage your bipolar disorder. Why not take some classes at a local community college, get a cool job or internship and make sure you're in a good place before going to an unfamiliar place? If you do leave for college, make sure you have a support system in place.

This includes a therapist in the counseling office, a psychiatrist close to campus and a residence-life staff who can check in with you and contact your parents if you need help. But really, there's no harm in waiting.


Harlan is the author of "The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College" (Sourcebooks). Write Harlan at harlan@helpmeharlan.com or visit online: www.helpmeharlan.com. All letters submitted become property of the author. Send paper to Help Me, Harlan! 2506 N. Clark St., Ste. 223, Chicago, IL 60614. © Harlan Cohen 2008. Distributed by King Features Syndicate Inc.