Unfortunately, the reality is, there’s probably very little you can do to help your sister. She’s an adult who is not necessarily engaging in behavior that is severe enough to warrant involuntary hospitalization. Generally speaking, the laws are written such that an individual can exhibit all of the symptoms you have described, which are indeed worrisome, and not be forced into treatment. If your sister were suicidal or homicidal, or actively attempting to harm her sons or others, then she could be forced into a hospital temporarily to undergo an evaluation. Otherwise, she’s free to do what she wants. That means she’s under no obligation to have a psychiatric evaluation, to see a therapist, go to a hospital, and so forth.
You can monitor her behavior, ensure that her children are safe and are never put in harm’s way and offer her advice about seeking help. Unless you go to court and have her declared incompetent, which is extremely difficult even in the best of cases, monitoring may be all that you can do.
Another idea that may be worth exploring is a family intervention. An intervention typically involves the family coming together to relay a centralized message. The message could be that your sister’s behavior will no longer be tolerated and that she must seek help if she wants to continue living in the home. That may be one way to coerce your sister into seeking help. If the whole family were on the same page, relaying a unified message, essentially forcing her to seek help in order to continue living at home, she might then agree to consult a professional.
Alternatively, an intervention may not be a good idea. It may make her very upset and angry and she may then leave the home, with or without her children, causing more problems. Interventions can be challenging which is why it is always advisable to consult an experienced professional. They could assist in determining whether such an intervention would be useful.
In situations such as yours, in which you have an individual who evidently needs mental health treatment but who’s refusing to get it, I typically recommend that the family members consult a professional. The reason for this is mainly because you will likely need some assistance interacting with someone who obviously needs help but who is unwilling to get it. It can be difficult to love someone who needs help but who is unwilling to seek it. It’s frustrating for the people who love that individual and it’s difficult to endure. Thus, it would be advisable for you and your family to consult a therapist regarding your sister. They may have some ideas about how to best interact with her. Family therapy is also an option to consider.
I wish that I had a more satisfactory answer for you. There are no easy answers in these types of situations. I hope this helps. Please take care.
Dr. Kristina Randle