Q. Our 31 year old son who lives with us and has been in and out of Psychiatric hospitals is now in his room 24 hours a day and not eating or talking other than to say “I’m busy”, “I need my privacy”, “please don’t bother me again” and “I AM EATING.” We are not sure if he really thinks that he has eaten or if he is trying to end his life intentionally. We have called the crisis center, his Psychiatrist, and most recently the police. All of this to no avail. The police came out and determined that he does not qualify for a 5150 which would have forced him to the hospital for evaluation. Meanwhile he has not eaten a solid meal in about a month and nothing at all in the past six days. He is 6 feet tall and weighed 172 pounds a week ago. With seven more days without food I am sure that he now weighs much less. What can we do?

A. I am sorry that you and your son could not be helped by the mental health system. Unfortunately, the situation you describe is very common in many states. People have to be virtually on the brink of extreme danger or death to be helped. I know your struggles well.

I do not know the law well in your state but generally, to be considered for inpatient involuntary commitment, a person has to be in imminent danger. This generally means that a person has to be on the verge of homicide, suicide or is unable to care for him or herself and their self neglect would likely result in serious bodily harm or death.

You should call back the crisis team or the police again but this time around present your case regarding your son’s symptoms a little differently. Be sure to include the following information. Be sure to tell them of his history. You mentioned that he has a long history of going in and out of hospitals. Stress this information and be detailed about what led him into the hospital in the past. Has he starved himself in the past? Is this time similar to the past times? In what way? If so, this shows that there may be a predictable course and outcome to his episodes. Does he have a history of putting himself in danger? What about putting others in danger? If yes, be sure to include all of these very important details.

Does he have access to any weapons? Are there guns in the home? If yes, report this to the crisis team. This is not to say that your son would use weapons because people with schizophrenia are not known to be dangerous except in very rare situations. But this needs to be a consideration when someone is displaying erratic and illogical behavior. If your son uses illegal substances, this is also something that needs to be reported.

Be sure to tell them that he has not eaten in over a week. Tell them he does not seem to be able to recognize that he has not eaten and that no one else has witnessed him eat in over seven days. Detail the fact that he has not come out of his room and has essentially barricaded himself in his bedroom. What about drinking fluids? If no one has seen him drink anything be sure to report this as well. The lack of water or liquid could lead to dehydration. What about bathing? If no one has seen him bathe, tell them this as well. This further demonstrates his inability to care for himself. Does he have any health problems? If so, report these. He could be neglecting to treat his health problems. Also, describe the things he is saying to you or to himself. Is what he is saying delusional or paranoid in nature? If so, report this in detail. It may also be the case that he is barely speaking. If this is occurring, be sure to report this information. A decrease in speech is usually indicative of someone falling deeper into psychosis. Tell the crisis team or the police anything you can think of, no matter how inconsequential you may think it is, regarding your son’s condition past or present. Remember you are trying to make the case for why your son needs to go to the hospital and every little bit helps.

The fact that he has not eaten in over a week and has essentially locked himself in a room is a sure sign that he is not well and is likely in the midst of a psychotic episode. Do whatever it takes for you to get your son to the hospital so that he can at least be evaluated medically and psychiatrically. My advice is to gather as much information as you can regarding your son’s past and his current symptoms and present it all in a very detailed way to the crisis team. Be adamant about the fact that if he is not treated or hospitalized in the very near future, you fear for his life. Not eating or drinking in over a week is extremely dangerous and clearly demonstrates that he is not well and is need of help. Keep trying until you get him help. It is all that you can do within the mental health system. I hope this helps. Take care.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 29 Nov 2007

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2007). Our Son has Schizophrenia and is Starving Himself. Help!. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 22, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2007/11/29/our-son-has-schizophrenia-and-is-starving-himself-help/