I understand your dilemma. I was once a part of a research team tasked with recruiting people with schizophrenia and one of their family members, to participate in a study. We ultimately had to expand our search to include people with schizophrenia who had a paid professional in their lives. We had extreme difficulty finding people with schizophrenia who had close connections with any one of their family members. In the majority of cases, they had lost contact with all of their family members and only had close connections with paid professionals.
Having “burned bridges” wasn’t just a phenomenon in our study, it’s like this for many people with schizophrenia. The “revolving door” aspect of your brother’s illness is common. It is, in part, what makes schizophrenia such a complicated illness. Having ample social support is immensely helpful in the recovery of many mental health disorders but supporting a person with schizophrenia can be very hard. Family members often feel the need to eventually cut ties with their loved one with schizophrenia in order to protect their own mental health and well-being.
It is important that you separate the person from the illness. Your brother does not stop taking his medication to be annoying or difficult. He can’t help it. It’s part of the illness. Not being able to recognize one’s illness is a symptom of schizophrenia called anosognosia. Anosognosia is a brain impairment that inhibits the ability to perceive one’s illness. It’s estimated that at least 50% of individuals with schizophrenia have anosognosia, and therefore lack awareness of their illness. Anosognosia is also common among other disorders including Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s disease. It is a possible side effect of a stroke.
There are books you can read about this subject. One of the best books is by Xavier Amador called I’m Not Sick, I Don’t Need Help. There are also organizations that may be of assistance to you including the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) and the Treatment Advocacy Center. NAMI has family programs, supports groups and many other educational materials that can help you learn how to cope with the challenges of loving someone with a severe mental illness.
Finally, you may also want to consider counseling. A counselor could help you to explore the emotional aspects of caring for someone with a severe mental illness.
When you deeply feel that your efforts are of little or no worth to the person that you are trying to help, then you are almost assuredly wasting your time. Be patient. Your life and the hours that comprise it are as valuable as those of the person you are trying to help. When you have tried and tried and tried again and nothing you do makes a real difference, it’s time to stop. That’s my most sincere opinion but only yours really matters.
Please take care.
Dr. Kristina Randle