How to help/contact a long distance friend with mental illness?
January 17, 2012 7:22 PM   Subscribe

I have a dear old friend who lives on the other side of the country. He has a history of moderate paranoia/schizophrenia, and he was incarcerated for about a year as the result of an episode of illness. He's disconnected his phone, and I'm trying to figure out how to get in contact with him.

We've mainly kept in touch over the phone, but I see him every couple of years. He's very isolated, and I don't know any of his friends (if he still has any) or anyone else who lives near him. He lives in a major metropolitan area, if that helps.

In our last phone call, he was expressing paranoid thoughts again, and I was worried he wasn't taking his meds. A few months later, he left me a voice message basically saying, "I haven't heard from you from awhile, so I'm assuming our relationship is over." When I tried to call him back, he had disconnected his phone (the same number he's had for 40+ years). I tried writing to him, but got no response.

I'm worried that his illness has kicked back in to full effect, and I don't know what to do. I can't really fly across the country right now, but without having a mutual contact in the area, I don't even know how to get to him. I will try writing to him again, but I don't even know if he's reading my letters.

Anyone have any ideas how I can help him, or even contact him?
posted by mikeand1 to Human Relations (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Question: Does he use the internet at all? It would help to answer if we knew this.

If so, can you email him (requesting a read receipt)? What about social networking? Facebook or Google chat? Twitter direct messaging? Skype?

You could try sending a letter by registered post or courier - he would have to sign for it, so you would know if it was delivered.

Failing that, maybe a local mefite could stop by and hand deliver a letter for you. Where is your friend based? Although the paranoia aspect might mean this is not a good idea.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:35 PM on January 17, 2012

Have you tried calling his local police department and requesting they check in on him to make sure he's okay?
posted by MegoSteve at 7:35 PM on January 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: He doesn't use the Internet.

Will the cops actually check in on him? Problem with that is that it is absolutely bound to fuel his paranoia. I have a good feel for how he thinks, having known him for 30 years.
posted by mikeand1 at 7:41 PM on January 17, 2012

Response by poster: Adding, I'd be very reluctant to have the cops go by, because he ended up in prison the last time they visited him... (he had a felony many years ago, and they found a firearm).
posted by mikeand1 at 7:43 PM on January 17, 2012

It'd be helpful to know where he is. Some areas have non-law enforcement mental health crisis response folds who are great at this sorta thing.

You could reverse-directory his address and see if you can ID any neighbors and cold call them, see if anyone has seen him arou d and knows if he's ok.
posted by purenitrous at 8:08 PM on January 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

I hate to suggest it, but do you think he might be in jail again for something he did when he was symptomatic? Maybe you could call his local police, and even if you don't want to ask for a well-being check, they might be able to tell you if they had arrested him for anything.
posted by la petite marie at 8:34 PM on January 17, 2012

If not the police, and you are willing to pay someone, how about a private detective?
posted by MegoSteve at 8:39 PM on January 17, 2012

Response by poster: He's in Northern Virginia.

I know that he's there. There is actually one person in the area I know; I asked them to do a drive-by, and they saw him. But this person is extremely reluctant to get involved, and I can't get them to talk to him, so that's a non-option. It was enough to get them to drive by.
posted by mikeand1 at 8:42 PM on January 17, 2012

Response by poster: Private investigators are really expensive, and all they can do is confirm what I know (that he's still there). I'd rather fly out myself than spend the money on a PI.

I'm interested in the idea of health crisis response. If anyone can point me to someone in the No. VA area who does this sort of thing, that would be very helpful.

posted by mikeand1 at 8:44 PM on January 17, 2012

If your friend who's local to him knows where he is, is there any reason you can't write him a letter?
posted by small_ruminant at 8:53 PM on January 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

Schizophrenic relatives (two of them) in my family.

The thing is, if he's not good at staying on his meds and you're not close by, the problem isn't getting in touch, it's staying in touch. Especially when the paranoia hits, the schizophrenics I'm related to are awfully good at cutting and running, even if there are several dozen family members in the area. With your friend so far away, the only thing that's going to keep him in touch with you (and probably the only thing that will keep him out of trouble) is adhering to his med schedule, and if he's not inclined to do so, you're going to be frustrated at every turn as his thoughts run away with him.

The only tack I would suggest as at all feasible is to take a trip down there, see if you can get in contact with people he trusts (if any) where he is now, and get to know them. People in proximity can check on him, but trusting an unmedicated paranoid schizophrenic to reliably keep you updated on his whereabouts and mental health is probably going to result in heartache.
posted by xingcat at 8:53 PM on January 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

In California Mental Health will do a safety check on mentally ill individuals. It does involve the police but also a mental health worker to do the evaluation. I do not know if it is generated by contacting the police or the local Mental Health Clinic, or if a friend can get the ball rolling. I also don't know if your friend would be receptive to this kind of contact. Having gone thru this with a family member I know how difficult it is to not know what is happening. In our case his therapist called for the safety check and it saved his life.
posted by cairnoflore at 10:30 PM on January 17, 2012

In Virginia you could call the local Community Service Board and ask them about crisis services. I've worked for a VA Community Service Board before. You might not be able to avoid police intervention because Crisis' first step will probably be a police welfare check. What county does he live in? I can help you find the right number.
posted by dchrssyr at 11:00 PM on January 17, 2012

Have you tried writing to him, to tell him that the relationship is not over and to ask him to get his phone reconnected so that you can call him?

I have a schizophrenic son who has a very old friend. I know how much that friendship means to him during a crisis and when he is doing well.
posted by francesca too at 12:26 AM on January 18, 2012

Response by poster: Yes, I am and have been writing to him. I told him I very much wanted to hear from him, and to please call me.

He's not responding. I don't even know if he's reading the mail I send him.

I know where he lives (at least as of a week ago); I'm 99% sure he's there.
posted by mikeand1 at 12:30 AM on January 18, 2012

If you sent a letter, try a postcard. Sometimes it's hard to open an envelope when you're going through weird mental shit and you think the letter inside will say things you don't want to hear.
posted by needs more cowbell at 12:37 AM on January 18, 2012 [16 favorites]

You could try a local mental health advocacy and support group? Like NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Health) Northern Virginia? They may be able to give you a referral to a group or organization that could check on him without involving the police.
posted by Cocodrillo at 3:11 AM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I live in nova. Id be happy to pay him a visit and say hello. I have experience working with this population.
posted by TestamentToGrace at 4:51 AM on January 18, 2012 [7 favorites]

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