My Brother’s Illness Is Tearing My Family Apart

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

My brother was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and ptsd when he was 20. He is currently 28 and lives with our mother (our parents are divorced), and is non-compliant with treatment (doesn’t take meds, go to his appointments,etc.). My mother is the only person listed as his medical proxy, but she acts like it is a hassle to communicate with his caseworker and physicians/therapists. She is the only one whom he trusts, but she acts as if she is scared to deny him anything (like money or the keys to her car), although he doesn’t have any history of violence. She is on the verge of a nervous breakdown, but won’t take any action to help the situation, either for my brother or herself. My father has offered to take my brother into his home for a while, but neither my mother nor my brother will communicate with him. I am currently receiving both psychiatric and counseling help for generalized anxiety disorder, but everyday I live with this underlying fear that something terrible is going to happen without some action. My mother will text and complain to my sister and I everyday about the actions of my brother (disappearing for hours at a time, not showering, all quirky behavior common to most with his disorder), but she will neither accept our advice nor consult a doctor or counselor, and we are beyond frustrated. If you have any advice that you could give me in this situation, I would greatly appreciate it.

A. You are obviously in a tough situation. Your brother is unwell and your parents are unable to care for him. Based upon the information you have provided, it seems as though there is little that you can do. You can express your concerns to your parents and attempt to give them advice but there may be little that anyone can do.

You might try communicating with your brother, as a way to keep tabs on him but don’t expect much. If he’s actively symptomatic, then he may not be responsive to anyone except perhaps your mother.

The reality is that there may be little that anyone can do for your brother at this time. He is clearly unwell but unless he is a danger to himself or to others, he cannot be forced into treatment. Involuntary commitment laws can be very strict.

It’s difficult to witness loved ones suffer, engage in behaviors that are clearly detrimental to their well-being and to be unable to help them. It’s a very helpless feeling. Unfortunately, many families are in this same predicament.

Do what you can to assist your family but realize that your power is limited. Continue working with your therapist to reduce your own depression and anxiety.

Call the authorities if necessary, if your brother is endangering himself or other members of your family. You may also want to contact your local mental health crisis team or the community intervention team (CIT), if available in your community. They are trained to deal with mental health crises and can advise you about how to handle your brother.

Finally, you may want to contact or review the website of the Treatment Advocacy Center (TAC). TAC is an advocacy organization dedicated to assisting individuals with severe mental illnesses and their families. Check their website for resources.

I empathize with your situation and I wish I had a better answer for you. Do your best with whatever resources are available to you. Please take care.

Dr. Kristina Randle

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 2 Jan 2014

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2013). My Brother’s Illness Is Tearing My Family Apart. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 22, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2014/01/02/my-brothers-illness-is-tearing-my-family-apart/

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