You are facing a common problem among people with serious mental illnesses, they don’t think they’re ill and refuse treatment. The technical term for not being able to recognize one’s illness is called anosognosia. Anosognosia is common among people with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other disorders that affect the brain, including Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s disease.
It’s important to understand that your father isn’t being difficult on purpose. It’s part of the illness. It is what makes serious mental illnesses so difficult to manage. Family members often feel burned out and may even choose, for their own mental health and well-being, to cut ties with a loved one with serious mental illness.
Your father needs help, but it’s going to be very difficult for you or your siblings to provide that help from a distance. Is there anyone in the family who’s willing to help him where he lives?
Contact local community mental health centers to determine what services he might be willing to utilize. For instance, he might be willing to let a case manager come to his home. He might also have a psychiatrist or another mental health professional he likes and who he is willing to see regularly.
Another option to consider is consulting an attorney concerning having your father declared incompetent. If declared incompetent, the designated legal guardian will make decisions that are in your father’s best interest. Speak to an attorney about whether your father could benefit from having a legal guardian.
If your father had Alzheimer’s, I doubt you would cut ties with him. You and your siblings would probably do everything in your power to arrange some type of care for him.
Having said that, I recognize that there is only so much you can do for him. Consider all options and explore every possibility. He’s mentally ill and left untreated, he might do things that he would not normally do. The obvious concern is his threatening suicide. People with serious mental illnesses are at a higher risk for suicide than people without serious mental illnesses. It is a very real concern and his threats cannot be ignored.
You should also contact your local National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) office. Other resources that may be of assistance to you include the Treatment Advocacy Center, the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law and other groups such as Treatment before Tragedy.
You might also want to read the book I Am Not Sick, I Don’t Need Help by Dr. Xavier Amador. He provides helpful advice about how to deal with family members who have serious mental illnesses but who refuse treatment. It’s quite an effective resource. If you have additional questions, please don’t hesitate to write again. Please take care.
Dr. Kristina Randle