I don’t know how to deal with my schizophrenic older brother anymore. I’m now the only person in the family who will have anything to do with him. Our parents have both died. Every so often he decides he’s been cured and doesn’t need his antipsychotic medication anymore. This is always against medical advice, but they can’t force him. He then deteriorates to the point where the police are involved due to his aggressive and alarming behavior and then he is sectioned and back in hospital. This cycle repeats itself every couple of years. I obviously get very concerned about his well-being when he’s off meds but he cuts me off and becomes very paranoid and abusive often making false accusations.
This time around (he’s just been sectioned yet again), I’m seriously feeling I can’t take anymore of him! Everyone else in the family has run a mile so why shouldn’t I? All my patience, understanding of his illness and sticking by him seems to be a waste of time. How do I deal with this anymore? I don’t feel I can talk to anyone really because I feel partly so angry about it all and then guilty that I’m angry at someone who is ill and who has no insight into the fact that he is ill.
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