Mother’s mental breakdown

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

Q. Yesterday my mother was admitted into the hospital for what is apparently a severe case of depression. My mother is 49 years old and she had a minor heart attack about 4 months ago. About two weeks after that she had to have a hysterecomy. She was fine after that. All of a sudden for the past few days she’s been doing things that aren’t her. She’s been hiding my step father’s clothing under the bed and following him everywhere he goes whether it’s to the bathroom, to the kitchen, etc.. She calls my sister and tells her that there are weird things going on in the house. She says that my step father stole her car, when he’s been driving her car for the past year and she’s been driving the new car. She says he’s trying to erase her family’s numbers from her cell phone. My sister took her to the hospital where she was admitted. She has since deteriorated in her condition. She doesn’t recognize her own mother any more, when I call her she talks to me as if I’m a stranger. When my 1 year old neice who my mother is crazy about went to the hospital to visit her, mother just kept pushing her away. She kept asking what the plastic bag(that the hospital gives you to put your clothing in) in her room was for. She then thought that the same plastic bag was a gift for her. We just found out that she quit her job of 6 years last Thursday without letting anyone know. She won’t sleep, eat, or take the meds that the hospital is giving her so they are now going to transfer her to a mental facility. Please help my understand what is happening. This is not my mother and I am so confused. Is my mother going to stay this way? Please respond.

A. I am sorry to hear about your mother. It’s difficult to say what is going on with her. The symptoms you describe do not seem related to depression but more related to some kind of psychosis. Something had to have triggered these symptoms you are describing. Physical causes MUST be ruled out before we should consider psychological factors. The hysterectomy may have resulted in a severe hormonal shift. A mild stroke or brain tumor are other possible physical causes. A reaction to medication is also a possible cause. It’s plausible that her recent physical problems and operation contributed to this recent breakdown in non-physical ways. It seems that some people are more vulnerable to stress than others. Sometimes physical problems can cause enough stress to a person that a breakdown occurs. I am familiar with a case of a woman who had a psychotic breakdown right after a hysterectomy. She actually went on to have many future breakdowns after her first one, but that was because she refused to take her medication. Left on her own to take the medication, she did not take it because she did not think she needed it. It was not until she was pushed to take her medication by her family that she stopped having psychotic episodes.

What’s good is that she is admitted to the hospital where she is safe and can be treated for these psychotic symptoms. It is important that you and your family try and work with her doctors to find out more about what they think contributed to her breakdown and how you can help her take her medication. Her treating doctors should have more insight into what is going on and how best to treat it. Because it sounds more like a psychotic breakdown and not depression, having her take the medication at this point is probably the best way for her to return to her normal level of functioning.

Since I do not have all of the facts, I am not sure what did happen to your mother. I cannot say if she will return back to normal or if she will stay this way. From what you describe, it sounds like she had a psychotic breakdown. The best treatment for psychosis is antipsychotic medications. I would recommend that you work closely with her doctors and find a way to help her take her medications so she can return back to herself and prevent any future breakdowns. If this is in fact a psychotic breakdown, it’s not uncommon that the person will refuse medication and fight about wanting to take it. Unfortunately, when they do stop with the medication, the person relapses and ends up back in the hospital. Research also posits that psychotic breakdowns cause brain damage. The most important way you can help is to make sure she finds a medication that can help her return back to normal and prevent future relapse and damage to the brain. Work with her doctors and social workers closely and ask many questions. I do wish you the best of luck.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 7 Nov 2005

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2005). Mother’s mental breakdown. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 24, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2005/11/07/mothers-mental-breakdown/