#1: I had a very happy childhood. My mom was usually great, very involved, etc. However, my siblings and I were always aware that mom would have a “freak-out” every onnce in a while, where she would seem to go a little nuts, screaming, bring up every bad thing dad had ever done to her, crying, say how stressed she was etc. She would claim lots of physical problems, depression, and sleep a bunch. Then I would hear pounding in the middle of the night and it was mom, single-handedly knocking out the kitchen wall and planning a massive decor overhaul or using up 3 rooms of the house to make hundreds of crafts to sell. Let me try to hurry: Now she goes through periods of bed rest/coma like/ saying nonsensical words and sentences (lasts for months) and then suddenly (usually after a stressful event with my dad) goes nuts: Example going on now- She wants a breast job (in her 60’s!), she thinks my youngest baby has odd lumps in his head that need to be checked out by a doctor, thinks my baby’s head sits crocked upon his spinal chord, organized donations from my whole family to pay for lasik eye surgery for my oldest son without telling me or my husband about it (my son wouldn’t even benefit from the surgery, but she didn’t know that), calls up different family members getting them worried over imagined or distorted health problems, tends to focus her “insanity” on different members of the family during these times (my turn seems to be now), spends $ like crazy on clothes (many of which will never be worn and keep their tags for years), develops odd friendships with people she would not normally and latches on to these inappropriately, she also says wild things, inappropriate things, even in public and it’s embarassing b/c you never know what’s going to come out of her mouth. Last year she had her worst episode yet and ended up spending 3 weeks in a facility (she ran away, saw a “little God” sitting on her knee instructing her every action, drew crazy charts about who was “chosen” and who was “out” for doing God’s will, claimed 3 demons raped her, etc). This all came about b/c she didn’t want my cousin marrying her fiance, so she called up the whole family saying it was against God’s will and was enraged when the wedding still was going on. She told me that I was manifesting Satan while on the phone with her discussing this wedding and even forced my dad to tell me I couldn’t go visit them until I sorted my demonic issues out. Dad only realized there was a problem when she told him she had a word from the Lord for him to run naked to their mailbox, touch it, and then run back home. Other than this, unfortunately, dad never really notices anything is wrong with her. She is very, very controlling of him and tries to be of the rest of us, too. She gets on tangeants where a member of our family is the “enemy”, usually one of our spouses and she calls up everybody and spreads bad gossip about them. She was always big on honesty growing up, but I find her telling lies now. She gets really hung up with “diagnosing” health problems in us, makes a ton of drams about almost nothing, created divisions in family relationships because of this behavior and always manages my dad to agree with her crazy ideas (he’s just glad she’s not nagging him). It’s crazy; I don’t like being around her, or having my kids around her, during this times. Can you help? Give some advice?
A. This is a complex situation. It sounds as if your mother is out of control. She seems to be exhibiting characteristics of a psychotic disorder such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or schizoaffective disorder. It is difficult to know, based on a short letter, which one if any of these disorders that she may have. You did not mention whether she has been diagnosed with any particular disorder but based on the information provided, she may have (and seems to have in the past) been experiencing psychosis.
When she becomes out of control it is best not to have your children in her presence. I say this because it may be a confusing and hectic time for your children. If she is acting in a bizarre manner or is a danger to herself or to others, she should be taken to the hospital for a psychiatric evaluation. If she will not go voluntarily, she may have to be taken against her will. The police or a local crisis team can help with this process. They can come to the home, assess her behavior, and assist you in handling the situation. You may want to pass along this advice to your father who is now beginning to recognize the extent of your mother’s problems.
Your mother needs to be in treatment. She could benefit from antipsychotic medication. Antipsychotic medication may not be a cure but it can help to significantly reduce her psychotic symptoms. It could help her to think more logically. It could also reduce or minimize her out-of-control behavior. Antipsychotic medication is one of the primary treatments for psychotic disorders.
She may also benefit from other treatments such as psychotherapy, group therapy, intensive case management or in-home services. In Pennsylvania for instance, there is a program called the Community Care Team (CTT). They provide in-home psychiatric services designed specifically for individuals with severe mental illnesses. For each home visit with a client, at least two mental health professionals (e.g. psychiatric nurse or a psychiatrist) meet with the patient to assess and meet his or her needs. Perhaps there is a similar service in your community. You can learn more about the psychiatric services offered by calling the local community mental health center.
I would also encourage you and your family to educate yourself about psychotic disorders. You should also contact a local National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) office. NAMI is an organization dedicated to helping the caregiver(s) of individuals who have a mentally ill loved one. If you feel that your children will be (or have been) affected by this situation, you may want to take them to counseling. You can talk to them about their grandmother as well. NAMI has information regarding how to talk to your children about family members with a severe mental illness.
There is no easy way to handle this situation. Psychotic disorders can be very complicated. They affect not only the individual with the disorder but often the family as well. This is why it is important that you consider contacting a local NAMI office. Many of the members of NAMI have dealt with similar situations. They are seasoned veterans when it comes to dealing with mentally ill family members and navigating the mental health system. They can offer you very good tips on how to handle your situation. If you have any future questions about this or any other situation, please do not hesitate to write back.
Thanks for your question. I wish you well.
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 7 Jul 2010
Randle, K. (2010). Help! My Mom Is Exhibiting Strange Behavior. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 26, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/07/07/help-my-mom-is-exhibiting-strange-behavior/