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Help redirect delusions of my schizophrenic uncle.
August 27, 2009 3:37 PM   Subscribe

Help me figure out ways to minimize the effect my schizophrenic uncle's delusions have on government and law enforcement.

I have an uncle who was a heavy drinker since his teenage years. For a while, he was an alcoholic and schizophrenic. One day about 7 years ago, he just stopped drinking and smoking while on his schizophrenia medication - cold turkey.
Now, he's never been to the point where he has no delusions but his stable long term (5+yrs) recurrent delusion is that any day now, he will be offered a highly coveted job at the UN which will help him bring peace to the world. Due to this delusion, he is always keeping his apartment spotless and he is always well dressed. From what my mother tells me, the psychiatric meds he's currently on have given him the best results so far according to the psychiatrist. The benign delusion actually motivates him to be very functional.

So here's the problem. He regularly obsesses about calling the UN and emailing the UN. He's called police authorities, FBI, Interpol, CIA, etc.. with his advice on how to fix current events such as suffering in Africa, N.Korea diplomacy, etc.

My mother is taking him to the psychiatrist to see if any new research or drugs have come out in the past year to help him out.
We're tried taking his laptop away but he'll just take a random job, earn several hundred, and buy a new laptop.
However, our other thought is just to allow him to keep emailing the UN but with some filter or hidden software on his laptop that makes it appear that he has emailed someone but in reality, nobody will receive his emails.

I'm open to all ideas. The more suggestions, the better. I think my mother is just afraid of having to explain again to the local police why his brother keeps calling the local dispatcher with advice on what is the solution to the Somali pirate dilemma. I've contemplated making some fake email address too where his emails could be sent to and I could reply on behalf of the UN in something to the effect of "we will reconsider your job application next year on July 31st, please do not contact any other authorities until then"
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total)
 
I'm not exactly sure what you SHOULD do, but I'm certain you should NOT send him a fake reply. That's only going to exacerbate the problem. Might his psychiatrist have a suggestion for how to handle this?
posted by katillathehun at 3:52 PM on August 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


You need to ask his doctor instead of mucking around in his psyche.
posted by desjardins at 3:55 PM on August 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


I don't know enough about the personalities involved to know if this is a viable solution, but instead of putting up roadblocks, I would try to channel his enthusiasm in a less harmful way. Help him start a blog or website to spread his ideas. Give him an outlet, and let him feel like he's accomplishing something. (without involving people who have better things to do.

Point out that no one is going to take some anonymous dude over the phone seriously, and that he needs to present his thoughts in a more professional manner if he wants to be taken seriously. If he responds favorably to this, you can even try getting him to write a book. This could potentially eat up years of phone-ranting time.
posted by Anoplura at 4:06 PM on August 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


Anoplura's idea is marvellous. Just please do not point him to MetaFilter.

Do you live in a small enough town that you could drop a letter off for the police chief? Does your uncle have a social worker who could advise you here?
posted by DarlingBri at 4:14 PM on August 27, 2009


Your uncle is only one of many people experiencing delusions to call the UN/his elected representatives' office/the local police/wherever. I've been on the other end of those phone calls in my work at universities--including university libraries. Coping with people who are experiencing delusions is one of the things customer-facing employees should be trained to do, especially in government offices.

The police, the UN, and everyone else your uncle calls or emails so anxiously can cope with this. Your uncle is not the only person to do this; they certainly have strategies and protocols in place to handle folks in this situation.

Point out that no one is going to take some anonymous dude over the phone seriously, and that he needs to present his thoughts in a more professional manner if he wants to be taken seriously. If he responds favorably to this, you can even try getting him to write a book.

Every publisher on the face of the earth has a box filled with these manuscripts. You know who else has a box full of correspondence from people experiencing delusions? The Harvard University Mathematics Department, according to an ex-boyfriend of mine who was a grad student there.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:17 PM on August 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


I think my mother is just afraid of having to explain again to the local police why his brother keeps calling the local dispatcher with advice on what is the solution to the Somali pirate dilemma.

If your uncle stopped calling with this, there would just be more airtime for the lady whose dental fillings are transmitting signals from the Macedonian Air Force.

Seriously, though, if your uncle's delusions don't involve him acting violently toward others or toward himself, or putting himself or others at risk, your mother might be well served to understand that this is a very common pattern of behavior for people with persistent delusions, and it's not her job to keep anyone from being annoyed or inconvenienced by her brother.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:20 PM on August 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think both you and your uncle have the same problem. Your hearts are in the right place, but you have unrealistic expectations of what you can accomplish.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 4:25 PM on August 27, 2009 [4 favorites]


See: Sidhedevil.

Your uncle is only one of many people experiencing delusions to call the UN/his elected representatives' office/the local police/wherever. I've been on the other end of those phone calls in my work at universities--including university libraries. Coping with people who are experiencing delusions is one of the things customer-facing employees should be trained to do, especially in government offices.


This. A good friend used to work for the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. She'd get folks coming in off the street who wanted to file a complaint about the people who were living in their teeth. These organizations get all sorts of correspondence from well-meaning and ill-meaning people (both mentally ill and otherwise) and are fully prepared to deal with it. Be glad he's not making fake crisis calls to 911 and calling out SWAT teams.


Every publisher on the face of the earth has a box filled with these manuscripts. You know who else has a box full of correspondence from people experiencing delusions? The Harvard University Mathematics Department, according to an ex-boyfriend of mine who was a grad student there.


Add to this my ex-boyfriend, who teaches Political Science at NYU.

I think it is best to remain agnostic and uninvolved, to the greatest extent possible, about your uncle's delusions, and definitely speak with his psychiatrist before contemplating any type of behavioral interventions such as the ones you mention.

Good luck. After reading the FPP on January Schofeld, I'm happy to hear your uncle is coping relatively well and that his delusions are largely benign, if aggravating.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 4:36 PM on August 27, 2009


This is something that you should really run by a professional (ideally, his counsellor/psychiatrist).

I once dealt with an individual who had delusions about individuals they encountered/knew, convinced that everyone was in on a massive conspiracy against that person. No amount of reasoning or explanation from anyone could convince this person that conspiracy was all in their head. Anyone who denied knowledge of the conspiracy was therefore 'part of it'.

The advice we got from a psychiatrist was NOT to engage in the "conspiracy" on any level -- just to simply say, "look, we can't talk about that because we don't know about it, but if you want to talk to me about anything else, cool". I think there is a risk that if you start writing fake letters and so you on you drag yourself deeper into to it and risk validating your uncle's beliefs about the UN etc.
posted by modernnomad at 5:17 PM on August 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Your uncle isn't hurting anyone and, as others have pointed out, the UN is already well-equipped to handle his occasional email or telephone call.

Just leave him be and be happy that he's not hurting himself.
posted by Avenger at 12:34 AM on August 28, 2009


Please do not intervene unless he's hurting himself or others. The interventions you propose come across to me as disrespectful/trust-breaching/delusional at best and creating grounds for paranoia at worst. Imagine he finds out you intercept his mails and impersonate the UN.
posted by meijusa at 6:58 AM on August 28, 2009


It doesn't sound like there is an actual problem here, as Sidhedevil explained so well. Another group of people used to dealing with this: judges and pro se clerks. Lots of people sue the CIA, the UN, the hospital that locked them up, the NYPD, etc.
posted by Mavri at 8:59 AM on August 28, 2009


I used to manage a state legislative committee, and about 15% of my phonelog was calls from people like your uncle; a good third of the postal mail was the same thing from incarcerated people. The people he's contacting are used to this, and his monomania is quite benign as these things go. (I still shiver when I think of the lady who sent carefully crayoned and graphic comic books about the evil of divorce courts.)

His psychiatrist should be made aware, but otherwise it sounds like the biggest problem it's causing for your family is embarrassment, which doesn't really factor into your uncle's treatment plan.
posted by catlet at 10:13 AM on August 28, 2009


You should tell him that the best way to influence international policy these days is to write a blog. That should keep him happily busy.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:45 AM on August 29, 2009


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