If I try to convince him I'm not a cop that just means I'm a cop.
March 10, 2009 10:09 AM   Subscribe

My friend suddenly believes that everyone he knows is a police informant. This includes me. How can I help?

A friend of mine had a run-in with the law about four years ago. The story goes that he went to a house party that was a setup and nearly everyone there was eventually led out in cuffs. He was on something at the time. I believed him at the time that he related this story, but I'm not sure how much is true at this point. He ended up temporarily in a behavioral health ward after this. His stated reason for going in was was to avoid surveillance.

A couple years later, I managed to get him invited to a different party thrown by some friends. The next day my friends call me and tell me he can no longer attend their events because he was going around telling everyone that they were undercover cops. At this point, I started to doubt his stories, because all the people he pointed out as cops at the party were the people throwing it.

He has been under some unrelated (I think) stress lately and is now talking to me about surveillance helicopters and vans going around his house. He believes that this surveillance is in response to a posting he made about the original incident on a message board. He also thinks that since he told me all about this that I have gotten the knock on my door and that I (like the rest of his friends and family) have been turned to a police informant.

Last I talked to him, it was pretty clear that any evidence or logic presented to him that conflicts with his theory will be rejected as part of the script he think I am reading from. He is trying to find a lawyer so that he can file a harassment suit against the police, which is obviously ludicrous.

I have other friends and family with psychiatric problems, but all of the depressive sort. I've never dealt with problems like this before in people I know. Is there anything I can do to help him? Or myself?

The person in question does take medication for ADD, if that might make a difference.

I have a throwaway email: notanarc@gmail.com
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (34 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
He needs professional help. Now. Perhaps a trip a mental health clinic or triage. He might even need impatient care, which can be difficult if he is not willing. He may be a danger to himself or others, which would make the impatient care involuntary. Reach out to other members of his support system- friends, family, etc. You might try and convince him that you can help him get somewhere that is safe.
posted by captainsohler at 10:14 AM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

I need to specify my reasoning: He is having paronoid delusions that were imprinted when he was at that party, and presumably on halluciogens. Now, that imprint is exacerbating into what may be syptoms of mental illness. And to gauge how severe he is in to these delusions, would require the help of a professional. But don't wait until something really drastic happens, for that could turn out bad for everyone.
posted by captainsohler at 10:19 AM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


But your friend is clearly experiencing paranoid delusions, a sign of schizophrenia. He needs immediate medical attention. He needs professional mental health immediately. You should alert his family, and try to get him into an emergency room. From the ER, qualified psychiatrists can evaluate his mental state to determine if he needs inpatient care. This is absolutely your first step.

Schizophrenia (this seems to be paranoid delusional schizophrenia, a common subtype) requires regular anti-psychotic medication and regular therapy. But this should be determined by a mental health professional.
posted by HabeasCorpus at 10:26 AM on March 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

Nothing. Leave the dude alone.
posted by the_ancient_mariner at 10:30 AM on March 10, 2009

Seconding the "this is a call for the doctor" advice. This definitely sounds like a delusion of some sort.

If he is trying to contact a lawyer, they may also contact health professionals about this, which is good...but he really needs some kind of mental examination pronto, if his delusion is getting to the point that he is talking about survelliance helicopters following him.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:30 AM on March 10, 2009

Ditto what people above have said. You need to alert his family. Do you know any of their phone numbers or e-mail addresses? If not, does he have any siblings you may be able to find through Facebook?
posted by Asparagirl at 10:31 AM on March 10, 2009

He sounds just like my aunt, who is schizophrenic. He needs professional help, as everyone else has said. If you get involved in trying to get him that help, know that it will probably cost you your friendship, although that's a small price to pay for his health. Please don't 'leave the dude alone.' That's callous and stupid. Lawyers won't contact doctors for him either.
posted by incessant at 10:33 AM on March 10, 2009

Thirding, fourthing, fifthing paranoid schizophrenia. This guy needs help from a professional right now, or this will almost certainly end very badly for him. I don't know if your country/state/county/city has a department of mental health, but if they do, they should be your first call to get advice.
posted by deadmessenger at 10:40 AM on March 10, 2009

It's difficult, but don't waste time trying to argue with him that what he's saying can't possibly be true. If he's psychotic, logic and common sense won't work, and may just make him more agitated.
posted by Dali Atomicus at 10:40 AM on March 10, 2009

He's having paranoid schzophrenia symptoms most likely. I've seen this happen and I'd call his family and let them know there's a real problem, stat.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:46 AM on March 10, 2009

I won't contradict what others have said above but will add that you are in a terrible place because ultimately you can't absolutely do much to help since you don't have any sort of parental or guardenship over your friend. However, I am sure some smart Mefite will post some links to resources or organizations that can help friends and family of people who are suffering from conditions like this (either to help themselves cope or understand what can and can't be done to help this person if they don't consent to help).

Good luck.
posted by mmascolino at 10:46 AM on March 10, 2009

If he's taking medication for ADD, then that means he is seeing a doctor (hopefully regularly). This can't be a competent doctor if these paranoid problems haven't been addressed. Do you know a brother/sister/parent of the friend? Tell them to take him to another doctor. Beyond that...you can't do anything...except MAYBE refer him to social services or something...in which case you would be a police informant.

Sorry didn't want to make light of the situation. It sucks.

Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 10:53 AM on March 10, 2009

Nthing getting him to a mental health professional ASAP.
posted by Silvertree at 10:54 AM on March 10, 2009

Yeah, you need to get in touch with this guy's next of kin and inform them of what's going on-- he might be schizophrenic, he may be experiencing some sort of reaction to his ADD meds, it could be any one of a number of things that you (and the rest of us) are not equipped to handle. His relatives will have more information about family medical history and hopefully be motivated to help him seek proper treatment.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 11:04 AM on March 10, 2009

I think the best option is to reach his parents or other family members. But, if that's not possible, if you or he are in college, talk to someone there (student clinic, student services). None of us can know for sure, but if he does have schizophrenia the school can provide resources and know what to do (symptoms of schizophrenia usually appears in your early 20s).

Another idea is to ring up his doctor (name on the ADD medicine). The doctor cannot talk to you about your friend's medical stuff, but can listen to what you say.

I'm sorry your friend is in this shape. Your friend needs professional help, and good on you for helping.
posted by Houstonian at 11:05 AM on March 10, 2009

Again going to Nth the mental health professional consult, but wanted to throw in my $0.02 that this sounds very much like a manic episode a bipolar friend of mine had.

This may not be schizophrenia, but does require a doctor's attention (IMHO).
posted by pkphy39 at 11:09 AM on March 10, 2009

Schizophrenia is serious.... You realize your friend probably needs to be hospitalized? You should call his family....
posted by xammerboy at 11:16 AM on March 10, 2009

Believe it or not but a lack of B12 can lead to VERY weird paranoid behavior.
posted by watercarrier at 11:18 AM on March 10, 2009

Schizophrenia is serious

Just to repeat this. From the tone of your question, you seem not to have yet grasped how serious an affliction this is. Do what you can, but be careful.
posted by CunningLinguist at 11:22 AM on March 10, 2009

Believe it or not but a lack of B12 can lead to VERY weird paranoid behavior.
posted by watercarrier at 1:18 PM on March 10 [+] [!]

Is that an attempt at medical advice? Seriously?
posted by WinnipegDragon at 11:30 AM on March 10, 2009

No. WinniepegDragon. It is stating a fact. A severe deficiency in vitamin B12 can lead to delusions, depression and paranoid delusions. I would start giving this person the benefit of the doubt that he's NOT paranoid schizophrenic or whatever other labels people have pinned on to him without even doing a complete check up including physical and consider that this may be a - if not - THE underlying cause. Thanks.
posted by watercarrier at 11:39 AM on March 10, 2009

Agreeing with the emphasis on "serious". You've seen for yourself how his delusions and paranoia are escalating. It's likely only a matter of time before he feels compelled to protect himself from the informants. While I applaud you for wanting to help your friend, please be safe.

In my early 20's, I worked as a live-in house manager for 8 or 9 mentally-ill residents. Several of the clients suffered from delusions such as you describe in your friend.

We were advised not to argue with them- ever. It won't do any good. Keep in mind that no matter how wild, these ideas are absolutely REAL to your friend.

For example, one 60-something lady believed that the local weather man her sent secret messages through the TV. He loved her and was going to marry her. Every Sunday morning she would pack her suitcase and sit on the porch and wait for him to come get her. Every Sunday evening, she would come back inside and tell me that he had been delayed- but that next week he was coming for sure. Nothing could shake this fantasy- as far as I know, she's still doing this.

We were also warned not to feed the delusions. Don't humor them or play into them. That's gasoline on the fire. Instead, it's best to stay neutral and calm (not easy, I know).

Many of my former residents had been trained by their doctors to ask for "reality checks" when the delusions got too bad. For instance, one would ask me if there really was a big gaping wound in my chest where the demon ripped through. I would respond casually "Nope, I'm demon free and feeling fine today, thanks!" and then we'd make cookies, or something. But it doesn't sound like your friend is anywhere near ready to ask for a reality check. He doesn't yet recognize that his thinking is disordered.

As others have suggested, this is going to require professional mental help. There is only so much that you can do. Please take care of yourself.
posted by GuffProof at 12:12 PM on March 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

The person in question does take medication for ADD, if that might make a difference.

Amphetamine psychosis can closely resemble several symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 12:16 PM on March 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure it is important whether the friend is bipolar, needs more B12, is taking too much speed, has screwed up his head with hallucinogens, or is schizophrenic. Clearly he needs help.

The poster sounds like he knows his friend is in trouble, and just wants to double-check that it's time to call in the family, etc. If that's the case, Anon, yes it's time.
posted by Houstonian at 12:52 PM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yes, this sounds very serious and not easy to fix (as you 've succinctly noted in your question title.

I've heard that you shouldn't bother trying to convince someone who is delusional of the truth. It will just mark you as "the enemy" or someone who thinks they are crazy. You have to somehow convince your friend that he needs to see a doctor about his mental health. Maybe he will concede that stress of the situation merits help from a professional.

The only online reference I could find was in the case of dementia caregivers. But it does say that:
"Caregivers should work with the delusion rather than try to convince the patient that the delusion is false. By definition a delusion is a fixed false belief."
"Deal With Delusions and Dementia: Tips for Family Caregivers on Dealing With Delusional Behavior"
posted by Gor-ella at 1:11 PM on March 10, 2009

You're basically suggesting that your friend is mentally ill based on a few unrelated incidents, behavior and symptoms. This may or may not be accurate. What kind of help do you think is available to paranoid schizophrenics? Heavy medication for the entirety of their lives. Or maybe even hospitalization - which could also be enforced with a diagnosis and a court order. Is this what you envision for your friend?

What if your friend is on to something and there is real reason to believe what he's believing. It's not that far-fetched in this day and age.

If he's employed, has friends, can keep himself clean and tidy, manages to live some kind of independent life and is not self-harming or harming any else - why worry? Everyone has their oddities, eccentricities and quirks - it comes with the territory of being human, and it doesn't automatically make someone certifiable.
posted by watercarrier at 1:25 PM on March 10, 2009

If he's taking drugs besides the Ritalin, try to convince him to go to rehab. Google "ritalin paranoia", "pot paranoia," "meth paranoia", "LSD paranoia", whatever it is: they're all scientifically proven to disrupt your neurotransmitters--and certainly aren't good for someone who's B-vitamin-complex deficient because they're stressed out from a shitty lifestyle. Putting himself into a better environment (i.e. stop going places where you might get set up!) will definitely remove some of the pressure.
posted by aquafortis at 1:45 PM on March 10, 2009

from the original poster:
"watercarrier, I am most certainly not trying to get my friend committed, but allow me to restate the context in a bit more detail. This friend is not employed. He has managed to lose at least four friendships in the past four years, and this is not a few unrelated incidents. At least once a month he will call me in the middle of the night and tell me about the undercover cops that he saw. The things that he tells me directly contradict facts that I have corroborated, and he assigns magic abilities to the police. He used that word literally when describing the wiretap on his cellphone to my wife, whom he also believes is a plant.

"The question I asked is not 'how do I get my friend to mental help?' but 'how to help him? or myself?' He is calling me and texting me many times a day. He will not talk about anything else, and I am at wit's end trying to control my temper when I communicate with him."
posted by mathowie at 1:56 PM on March 10, 2009

What kind of help do you think is available to paranoid schizophrenics?
There is a lot of help available! The choice is not between illness and institutionalization anymore. Modern drugs are much better than the old ones. The stigma against mental illness has been greatly reduced in our society. There are many programs aimed at psychosocial rehabilitation of the mentally ill, helping them learn to live in and be a part of the world around them, like clubhouses. There are good people out there who can help people with chronic mental illness.
posted by hydropsyche at 2:03 PM on March 10, 2009

If he's already suspicious - what can you tell him that will convince him to seek any kind of help without him bolting? With all due respect to your concern, you can only care for yourself in that you set boundaries about his behavior that effects you directly. You can't micromanage him, you can't heal him. I'd make suggestions to him. If he takes them - fine. If he doesn't, fine too. Though just a head's up - what he is exhibiting can be a plethora of conditions - including the one I mentioned above about vitamin B12 - but unless he's actually tested that can never be established for certain. I'm a firm believer in first find the root cause, then treat with the least destructive remedy that will lead to healing - not merely mask symptoms. Bottom line - define parameters in your relationship to him, set boundaries (including refusing to take middle of the night phone calls) and basically understanding that you can't *help* someone unless they're willing to be helped. And if they're not willing - you have to learn how to either accept them as they are - or wish them well and move on.
posted by watercarrier at 2:44 PM on March 10, 2009

I am at wit's end trying to control my temper when I communicate with him.

Your friend is lucky to have someone like you who cares and is patient enough to try to help. Your friend sounds like he's on the edge of dangerous mental illness and you're note equipped to help him yourself. If I were in your situation, I'd do one of two things. Either contact his family and tell them your concern. Or if that's not an option, try to contact his doctor prescribing the ADD medication (assuming it's prescribed). The doctor won't discuss the case with you, but with any luck they'll listen to your concerns.
posted by Nelson at 3:00 PM on March 10, 2009

This site has some helpful information for friends and family of people who are experiencing psychosis.

It doesn't really matter, when considering what you can do for him, whether he's experiencing psychosis (and yes, this is psychosis--the police are not magical, and everyone he knows is not their informant) because of a physiological issue like a reaction to his ADD meds or because of a neurological/psychological issue like schizophrenia.

The thing you can do for him is do your best to get him in to see his doctor. And, yeah, this is not going to be simple. Enlisting family members in the effort may help. If you can communicate with the doctor--as Nelson says, the doc can't talk to you, but you can impart information to the doc, especially information about any potential risks or hazards you see on the horizon for your friend--that's great, too.

And it's really important to make your own boundaries around this. Yes, your friend is going through a significant crisis, but you can only do so much for him. Figure out what works for you, then do your best. Either he will get help or he won't--sadly, even the involvement of caring friends isn't enough to make that happen.

Don't burn yourself out. Your friend will need your help all along the line, not just now. Best of luck to you and to him.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:03 PM on March 10, 2009

watercarrier, I don't know why you're trying to argue with people here. Everybody here is arguing that he needs to see a doctor. A doctor, conveniently enough, is also the sort of place you would go to be tested for a B12 deficiency.

you can't *help* someone unless they're willing to be helped.
Except, if it is schizophrenia, you can perhaps eventually help them by getting them to be involuntarily medicated by going through the proper procedures (which are generally long and complex and very difficult). If it was a B12 deficiency, feeding the dude B12 would help him, whether or not he believed in it. Medicine is frequently like that.
posted by jacalata at 8:04 PM on March 10, 2009

Without diagnosing him (i.e. telling him you think he has a particular condition) and before contacting his family, I would directly ask him to see a doctor. Not necessarily a psychiatrist... just his family doctor would be fine. The family doc could make a referral if needed. If he refuses, then yes, this is serious enough to contact his family.
posted by IndigoRain at 11:21 PM on March 10, 2009

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