Schizophrenia, elder abuse, and minding our own business
May 16, 2014 1:05 PM   Subscribe

Our schizophrenic neighbor appears to be emotionally abusing his elderly mother. When do we step in?

Mrs Sportbucket and I bought a house last fall. Our neighbor to the south -- let's call him Mikey -- is in his 40s and lives with his elderly mother. His mother is probably in her 80s. When we do see her she's usually working in the garden, so she's still relatively healthy and able-bodied. I've tried to talk with her on a few occasions, but it never goes farther than "hello". I think she speaks English, but it's probably her second language.

Mikey mostly stays inside and keeps to himself, though he sometimes wanders the neighborhood late at night. Occasionally he comes outside to shout obscenities at what appears to be a threatening person or group of people.

As his neighbor, we can sometimes see and hear him shouting at our house through his closed windows. We also hear him yelling and screaming inside his house without actually seeing him. It's not always possible to make out what he's saying, but he appears agitated. Twice I have heard him accusing someone (his mother?) of drugging his beer.

This isn't a daily thing, it comes and goes in spurts. I don't know if that means he's medicated some of the time, or if he's not always there, or if he just doesn't do it consistently.

I have talked to Mikey in person at least twice. He seemed guarded, but not particularly agitated by me. Each time he asked (somewhat accusingly) if I knew who had been "tampering" with his appliances, making obscene gestures at him, and/or trying to control him and his mother. (I told him no, I didn't have any idea.) He described what I think is his main tormentor as a "big bald-headed black dude", whom Mikey apparently thinks lives in my house. (I told him I have never seen a person like that at our house, and that it's just me and my wife who live there.)

Clearly, Mikey is suffering from something like schizophrenia. It's awkward and unfortunate that his delusions are centered on our house, but he's never threatened me and I have no reason to believe he's a danger to us. (Though I might feel different if we had kids.)

Last weekend my wife and I were out working in the front yard. We heard Mikey shouting and yelling inside his house, but we could hear another, softer voice (presumably his mother) arguing back. We couldn't make out much of the argument. Mikey sounded very upset and was screaming at the top of his voice. The only bit I could make out was Mikey asking (in full-tilt rage-scream) where the aspirin was.

My wife is a mandatory reporter for elder abuse, so she feels ethically bound to call the authorities the next time we hear something like that. I'm not convinced this will necessarily help anyone.

The neighbors I've spoken to about this know Mikey to be erratic and delusional but otherwise harmless. I think we're the only ones in a position to see/hear the possible/probable elder abuse.

I don't know if Mikey and his mother have any other family in the neighborhood that could help, but I'll keep trying to talk to his mother.

So what do we do? When do we step in?
posted by sportbucket to Human Relations (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
There's a red warning light in my head that says maybe not talk to his mother (which may lead to Mikey thinking the two of you are plotting against him) or interact more with Mikey until you either have a better handle on the situation, or something is done. Especially as:

"...his delusions are centered on our house..."

As well as your own safety from someone who lives just a few feet away, there is the safety of your wife to consider.

Your post is clearly written. It may be a good time, as there's been several incidents that you have documented, to pretty much give the text of it to whatever local protection or law enforcement services are appropriate to see what they have to say.
posted by Wordshore at 1:16 PM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

If the mother is the caretaker in this situation, and her son is yelling as part of his delusions, then I'm not sure she's being abused so much as she's taking care of a delusional person. Sure she's 80, but I think he's under her care not the other way around. If anything, I'd just try to make sure she knows about resources (MHMR, etc.) that are available in her language. You could perhaps point her to a few.
posted by Houstonian at 1:17 PM on May 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My wife is a mandatory reporter for elder abuse, so she feels ethically bound to call the authorities the next time we hear something like that. I'm not convinced this will necessarily help anyone.

You are unfortunately, wrong in this case. If your wife is a mandatory reported, she must report suspected elder abuse. Failure to do so can lead to pretty serious professional repercussions such as a loss of a practicing license. Not acting on your mandatory reporter status, depending on your jurisdiction, can really fuck your lives up.

But even if your wife was not a mandatory reporter, you should consider it your duty as a citizen and a neighbor to call DHS/Adult protective services the next time this happens. Ignoring things like this and 'letting things slide' is what ends up getting people hurt, unfortunately. They will do what is called a 'wellness check' on the situation; they're professionals and will determine the severity of the situation. Thats their job. Not yours. You keep calling DHS every time it happens. If Mikey indeed has schizophrenia, he needs help or his mother may need help.

It's not fun, it's not a great past-time but calling DHS is just like calling the cops; something abnormal is happening, and someone needs help. You're just directing officials to the problem.
posted by furnace.heart at 1:20 PM on May 16, 2014 [12 favorites]

Best answer: Oh, and your profile says you're located in Portland, Oregon; DHS is really, REALLY good around here at handling situations like this. The police are not (though, in some other jurisdictions they are). Call DHS. You don't even need to wait for the 'next time it happens.' Portland does this kind of stuff very well.

Here is a really good breakdown of what constitutes abuse and when you should report. And yeah, in Oregon, there are legal penalties for not reporting abuse.
posted by furnace.heart at 1:31 PM on May 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

>>> The neighbors I've spoken to about this know Mikey to be erratic and delusional but otherwise harmless.

None of you are in a position to know whether this is true or not. You should call someone who is, right away.
posted by ravioli at 1:37 PM on May 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

My family went through something similar, which ended with an elderly relative being physically attacked. It's not a pleasant situation, but please call adult protective services. At a certain point, an elderly person is not a capable caregiver for a person with mental illness. This is unlikely to get better on its own.
posted by another zebra at 1:47 PM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses, everyone. We'll be notifying the authorities ASAP.
posted by sportbucket at 2:05 PM on May 16, 2014 [6 favorites]

Just as another reassurance that this is a good plan--schizophrenics tend to be publicly regarded as more likely to be violent than they actually are, and there are absolutely sensational stories but there's a lot more people who are difficult to live with in much more ordinary ways. At the very least she is a woman in her 80s caring for a person with a severe mental illness. That's a hard thing to do even when you're younger, and getting them on the radar here is a very good thing. He could be perfectly safe and she would still probably be at a point where if she doesn't need additional help with this now, she will soon, and if something happens to her, he should be on the radar, too, so he doesn't fall completely through the cracks. Her being an ESL speaker increases the chances that she may not know about or feel capable on her own of acquiring support services.

The decline of institutionalization for a lot of mental health and developmental disabilities has led to elder caregivers all over and it's definitely a complicated thing for families to handle. So, you're doing a good thing.
posted by Sequence at 2:24 PM on May 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

In partial response to Sequence above= As someone who has had 3 Paranoid Schizophrenics in her life- All of whom had attempted to kill her and members of her family during different various points- once even succeeding in putting a knife through a relatives shoulder- I tend to believe that the so called "sensational" stories of schizophrenics being dangerous are not sensational at all. Rather I think it is the PC environment that we live in that makes people not take proper precautions because they don't realize how dangerous it can be. The woman who pushed a man on to his death onto the subway tracks in NYC-unprovoked- was schizophrenic. The man who shoved a knife into the skull of another man for commiting the crime of ringing his DOORBELL was schizophrenic. The woman in 2009 who ate the brain and eyes of her baby boy "because the demons told her to do it" was a diagnosed schizophrenic. Rudy Eugene who ate the face of a man in Florida unprovoked was a diagnosed schizophrenic; A couple of weeks ago in Wisconsin a schizophrenic man was shot and killed by police after stabbing 2 of them who tried to help him.... These are not sensational stories, they are true and can easily be confirmed by looking up various newspapers. It's true that with medication a paranoid schizophrenic can be a very normal and safe person to live with, and it's true that they are more likely to cut themselves with a knife than they are to cut you with it, but I think it's a big mistake to take the overly PC approach that paranoid schizophrenics off their meds are unlikely to hurt others, because that is simply not true and a potentially dangerous view to take. Assuming the OP's neighbor is not on medication this situation needs to be handled with great caution and care.
posted by olivetree at 2:44 PM on May 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

Mod note: Moderator here. The "be cautious for your own safety" advice is noted, but the question is about how to handle the aspect of the mother specifically, so let's stick to that please. Thanks.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 2:50 PM on May 16, 2014

I'm glad you are calling Adult Protective Services. I think the world would be a better and safer place if people didn't "mind their own business" when it comes to children and vulnerable adults. A mind-your-own-business attitude allows abusers to behave with impunity.

Protective services don't just swoop in and break up families or pack people off to nursing homes willy-nilly. They can refer Mikey and his mom to mental health services, counseling, food stamps, or whatever they might need. It sounds like Mom is an immigrant whose first language isn't English - there are probably services that could help her and Mikey that she is not aware of, and APS will refer her to them.

Even if no abuse is taking place, it sounds like Mikey and Mom need help.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 4:18 PM on May 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Just note depending on the state your wife may not be a mandated reporter outside of work. Either way I don't think it should effect your decision.
posted by AlexiaSky at 1:14 PM on May 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

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