Should I help this ill person? If so, how?
March 2, 2011 7:06 PM   Subscribe

A new friend/acquaintance has made some quasi-suicidal statements and is obviously delusional and routinely binge drinks. What, if anything, should I do?

Met a guy online. Talked on the phone twice, met about half a dozen times. He seemed like a brilliant eccentric with some interesting theories. Things got date-y. Neither of us initiated anything physical. He seemed within the normal parameters of human behavior, at first, though the drinking gave me pause.

Last time we hung out it was obvious he was delusional, to the point where I suspect schizophrenia. Among other bizarre convictions, he's indicated his body has an expiration date soon. He seems happy about this.

He has no local support system that I know of. He's quite a gentle person, and I see him possibly getting taken advantage of or self-destructing.

I don't want to post too many specific details due to a desire to protect his identity, so I've created a throwaway email:
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
That doesn't sound like a suicidal statement to me. It sounds like he's mentally ill, and that you just met him, and he's not your responsibility. Stop returning his calls and messages and get on with your life.
posted by empath at 7:09 PM on March 2, 2011 [13 favorites]

empath is correct. Encourage him to seek help and let him know you're not in a position to deal with these issues and wish him well.

I'll repeat for emphasis "he's not your responsibility".
posted by tomswift at 7:17 PM on March 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Honestly, yeah, empath has it here. I was in a similar situation about two years ago, except I'm male and she was female and things had gotten somewhat physical. I didn't trust my gut and let things linger about a week too long until she had a violent mood swing and threw a glass knick-knack well, not *at* me, but into a wall about two feet over my head.

Don't put yourself in that situation.
posted by Ufez Jones at 7:28 PM on March 2, 2011

I had a friend that was like this. She would call me on the phone late at when she was depressed and would make comments about suicide and other depressed-like notion. She seemed to have a more manic personality, where some days/weeks/months she would be great then all of the sudden she was not so great. When she would call me with these “episodes” I often would drop whatever I was doing and go to her side. As much as I tried to console, empathize, help her in anyway the episodes were always lasted as long or as short as she allowed them to.
Finally, after she called me dozens and dozens of times with “threats” of her ending her life, I told her that if she continued to call me saying these things I was going to hang-up and dial 911. I explained I would do whatever she needed for me to do and be there for her and continue to come over when she needed me, but she could no longer say she was going to end her life around me without me reporting it.

I found I got to the point where I didn’t know how serious or not serious she was and I did not want to overlook or take advantage of any time she would say such things for the instance that she was serious. Needlesstosay she stopped calling me – which wasn’t my intention, yet I did not want to feel the responsibility of “did I do everything I could have”, or with the potential guilt if something did happen.

I am a firm believer that you can’t help someone that doesn’t want to be helped. You an be there for them, you can walk with them through their troubles, but if they can’t get help, or make that step to get better there is nothing you can do about that.

My friend is now getting help and she is doing better and no longer speaks with me about wanting to die or suicide. Whether or not she is actually better I don’t know for sure, but I do feel some relief that maybe my “threat” of taking her seriously helped her a long the path of getting help.

Not sure if this helps but something maybe to help YOU through your decisions. Good luck!
posted by lutzla23 at 7:29 PM on March 2, 2011

It doesn't sound like you've known him very long, so you should just let this go... You won't be able to give him the type of help he needs, and keeping him in your life might bring you down as well. If you feel he's a danger to himself, call 911. They'll be able to give him temporary help/resources, and it'll be up to him if he wants to follow up.
posted by biochemist at 8:16 PM on March 2, 2011

There might be a reason he doesn't seem to have a local support system, and that reason might very well be that his delusional behavior has burned a lot of bridges in the past. In any case, he is not your problem. I know you care about him as a fellow human being and as a friend, but you do not need to help/save/or fix him in any way. He's not family, you're not romantically involved, and you're not even particularly close friends.

IMHO, the best thing you can do in this situation is to gently back away and keep yourself at a distance. There's no need to cut him off completely unless he's actively threatening harm, but there's absolutely nothing about this situation that suggests that getting yourself entangled further is going to do either of you any good. Saying that his body has an expiration date is a particularly bizarre delusion and doesn't sound healthy, but it doesn't sound suicidal in any way as he's not delineating a plan in which he actively causes harm to himself.

If he does actually threaten suicide, call 911. Don't try to save this guy on your own, there's no need for you to carry that kind of burden for someone you hardly know.

If you want to be this guy's friend, just hang out and listen to him like you do your other friends, but absolutely DO NOT try to become his therapist/mother/sister/etc. or try to "help" him beyond the normal boundaries of friendship. If you do, you're only putting yourself in a situation where you could get seriously used and/or hurt, especially if he hasn't asked for help.
posted by sonika at 8:16 PM on March 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

So, no, you are not responsible for this guy. However, you can still be concerned for his well-being and not cut off all contact cold. In fact, if you are going to stop seeing him, weaning yourself away from him is probably the best thing to do.

You are not his therapist, however you can listen to him. Don't encourage him or endorse anything he's saying or doing, but listen to him. If you can calmly and rationally steer conversations in a productive manner - say, towards his interesting theories - do that.

Try to do things with him that are not around alcohol. Don't put yourself in a situation with him where the two of you are drinking - that will actually be seen as you endorsing his drinking.

Don't sleep with him.

From what you've described - and I obviously don't know the full picture - he seems like most highly intelligent, eccentric people I know. For the most part, they're lonely because few people understand the depths of their emotions and thoughts, and they can sometimes behave strangely because they're trying to reach out but they've often encountered a lot of rejection. Because of that, they self destruct because they think they're meaningless and that no one cares or they're preyed on because they're desperate for a connection.

But, also keep in mind, no matter what, always put your own safety above anything else.
posted by mleigh at 12:10 AM on March 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you want to spend your life taking care of people who need mental health interventions, then you should help him.

If you have other things you want to do with your life, you should not get too involved with trying to "help" him. He may have been like for a long time and may have a nice stable life set up for himself, despite what you have seen thus far.

It is not fair to either of you to try and fix him and sort him out. Not fair to him because he may get attached to you. Not fair to you unless you want to get dedicated to this in lieu of a lot of other things.
posted by nickrussell at 12:49 AM on March 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

I had a frighteningly similar experience. Try your best to point them in the direction of professional help and get out of the relationship.

My situation turned out to be extremely toxic and was a very emotionally harmful environment to be in.

I would strongly advise you to get out as soon as will never turn out well unless they seek help. For me, the person never did. Don't wait around, move on.

Send me a memail if you'd like to talk more.. My situation really is scary similar to your own.
posted by Bron-Y-Aur at 1:29 AM on March 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you've never personally dealt with someone that has a severe, unmedicated mental illness, you really cannot imagine the extent of the havoc he is capable of wreaking on your life. It seems like he could well be in the throes of a psychotic episode, and if that's the case, medication is the only way to bring him back to reality. The kind of drugs that he needs can only be administered under close supervision, which means he needs to be committed for at least a week, probably.

In my unfortunately extensive personal experience, your only option as a friend is to take him to the emergency room, probably against his wishes, where he will be committed and medicated, or turn him loose on the world, where he'll eventually be picked up by the police for doing something crazy, and then committed and medicated. You as a layperson do not have the resources to handle this on your own, and it's doubtful that anyone you contact outside of a mental hospital is going to be willing to take him on until his psychosis is under control.

It's a safe assumption that if he doesn't have a support network, it is because his untreated illness has resulted in past incidents of frightening and destructive behavior. The people who know him better than you do know from experience to stay away. My emphatic advice is to follow their example.
posted by milk white peacock at 9:14 AM on March 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

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