Can I help an old, distant friend with apparent mental illness?
November 5, 2014 1:41 PM   Subscribe

An old friend now living in another state looked me up. At first they seemed to have been experiencing the aftereffects of significant but ordinary traumatic events in life. I now believe they are struggling with significant mental illness that they are in denial of. I don't know how I could help them or if it's even a good idea to try.

I'll try to keep this as brief as I can while including the relevant details, but this is going to end up being long. I'm using an anonymous side account for the question and keeping identifying details low to protect this person's anonymity - I don't think the specifics matter particularly.

This situation is odd and I imagine it will generate a lot of opinions. If you haven't dealt with something pretty specifically similar I doubt these opinions will help much. If you have any sort of direct experience with anything similar your opinion would really be valuable. I know I can't diagnose a mental illness over the internet and I don't want to try (or particularly entertain others' opinions) but I think the facts pretty much speak for themselves.

I don't want to get into detail but in the past (over 20 years ago) I had a sometimes difficult relationship with this person. I'll call them "Chris" for the sake of clarity. At one point Chris was not respectful of my boundaries and I ended up cutting them out of my life with a harshness that was probably disproportionate to their actions (I was leaving home/going to school and badly wanted a clean slate).

Several years later we ran into one another by coincidence and became friends, letting bygones be bygones. They seemed to struggle at times with depression and anxiety and moved around a lot but it didn't seem like anything unusual. There was never any repeat of the early issues though at times I felt like they dwelt on our past (not obtrusively but with evident regret) and that truth be told, my presence in their life made them sad. Eventually they stopped contacting me, my contact info for them grew outdated, and I lost touch (we have no mutual friends left). This was something like 12 years ago.

Recently Chris contacted me through a relative I don't really know via a social network we share. The relative said Chris had gone through some tough times and was trying to reconnect to some of their lost network of friends. I said it was okay to contact me and gave them my number to pass along.

In a nutshell the "tough times" as described were a very abusive relationship. Chris' life pretty much came apart (couldn't keep job, home) and they had returned to live with their parents. We share a religion and they asked me to pray with them which I did and it seemed to give them a lot of comfort. They were out of the abusive situation, away from where the trouble had occurred and wrapping up their connections to their old residence and seemed generally optimistic.

Over the next months however it became clear that Chris was developing the belief - or had chosen to start revealing the belief to me - that the abuse had been the beginning of an organized campaign of persecution against them. Chris believes the police authorities of their former place of residence, an individual they had a subsequent relationship with, a mental health professional (who had not been mentioned previously) who they had seen for post-traumatic stress after the abuse, were all in collusion against them. Chris sent me a copy of an open letter (to whom it was sent is unclear but I gather the sorts of organizations you would enlist to champion the cause of a political prisoner or such) they'd written connecting their perceived persecution to things like covert federal surveillance of 60s radicals (because Chris had engaged in some very ordinary, mild student activism in college), various US companies, politicians, and "secret organizations". Many significantly odder and less realistic ideas.

I didn't know how to react at all. When Chris talked to me on the phone, over a couple conversations I said (probably not that gracefully) that I could not believe they were a victim of organized, covert persecution and that I thought they needed to seek help with the mental effects of the trauma they experienced (I'm assuming the original abusive relationship was real and portrayed accurately which seems reasonable to me based on the sequence of events and what their relative said to me but of course there's no way for me to know what has actually occurred in their life). I said I didn't feel like it was a good idea for me to get into a discussion about what Chris thought was going on or trying to debate why I couldn't see things as Chris did.

This did not go over well. I suggested bringing in their relative who had originally reconnected us (who seems basically together and intelligent) to the discussion and Chris got very upset about this, to the point I promised not to discuss it with the relative. Chris basically said they were sorry they had upset me, it didn't seem like their was anything common ground we could have on the subject and I didn't hear from them for over a month.

A week or so ago I got a text from Chris. It indicated Chris believed strangers were mocking them on the street (this was presented as proof that the persecution is real not imagined). The tone was very upset and Chris expressed sadness that I wouldn't listen or question the situation. I felt bad about this but I couldn't think of a way to respond and I haven't. There hasn't been further follow-up but I suspect their will be eventually.

The only contact information for Chris I have is a cell phone number. I do not know their parents' names (last name is very common) or where they live besides the state. I could connect to the relative who reconnected them through the same social network but I'm leery of bringing them into it (because I did promise I wouldn't, but also because I don't have any idea of their real relationship to Chris or if it is generally good/positive/supportive, and finally I'm worried how Chris would react towards me).

There has been no indication that Chris poses a specific danger to me or others. No threats of self harm or to others. In my experience Chris has always been basically kind, decent and pacifistic (if anything passive to a fault). Chris is upset about the perceived persecution and wants the unknown parties "responsible" to face justice and to be prevented from hurting others.

I feel strongly I should not engage with the imagined details of persecution at all - it seems clear Chris would really like me to debate about these and try to prove to me that the persecution is real. I go back and forth whether I should contact the relative about what has gone on. It is selfish but it's hard to imagine not getting drawn into it as an intermediary (the relative lives far from both of us) and I don't want to deal with the fallout of being a person who broke a promise of a confidence to Chris given the circumstances. I feel like the only possibility of help for Chris is professional intervention in their mental health. Chris basically thinks mental health professionals are in on it (they haven't said this in quite so many words but pretty much have) and has vehemently stated a few times that they do not need mental health assistance, that it is bad people who persecute others who need mental health assistance.

I certainly believe Chris is genuinely upset, unhappy, scared, and confused. I feel very bad about all this but I am also not in any genuine sense close to Chris. I'm also dealing with genuine serious problems of my own including a very recent diagnosis of a serious chronic illness. Just thinking about trying to deal with Chris in any way makes me feel tired. I dread another long text.

Any advice is appreciated. I will answer questions if I can but probably will not be back to read answers until later this evening.
posted by Luke Skywalker to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm sorry. This is so hard. You are not going to be able to fix this on your own, no matter how much you care for this person. I know you understand that, but it's important that you hear it again and really believe it. What you can do is act as a safe ear for your friend. What you say about believing that Chris is genuinely upset, unhappy, scared and cofused is really the heart of this. You can hear that and let Chris know that without buying into the delusional beliefs. You can be ready with resources for Chris to get psychiatric help (a hotline, a psychiatric emergency room near you, things like that). You can call for help if Chris ever seems like a danger to him/herself. Beyond that, there are not many things you can do.

It's important that you take care of yourself if you're going to be available for any of this. Setting limits and boundaries is part of that. Think of what you can and cannot provide for this person and give yourself permission to stick to that.

NAMI is a great resource if you have questions or need help with resources.
posted by goggie at 1:51 PM on November 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I think you should contact the relative. Here's why:

Two members of my family have been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. IANAD, but your friend's issues sound very similar to how both of my relatives acted. In the absence of a professional diagnosis, all you can do is act in good faith, and in your friend's best interests.

One of my relatives is now dead. The other one is alive, and after a long, hard struggle of about a year (which included 2 bouts of homelessness, 2 non-voluntary hospital commitments, an arrest, a court petition, and more anguish all around than you can imagine), is in treatment and doing better. The only reason this person is doing better - the only reason they're still alive - is because someone who was a stranger to our family contacted us and let us know they were concerned. The person who contacted us was the relative's landlord, who had evicted my relative. The landlord contacted us because he was concerned about my relative's behavior.

Please don't hesitate to contact the relative. Your friend's life may depend on it.
posted by MexicanYenta at 2:11 PM on November 5, 2014 [18 favorites]

First of all: protect yourself. Protect your personal safety and that of your family, your property, your finances; do not give Chris any more information than you already have --- do not provide your address, your employer, or anything other than the phone number they already have. Do not offer a place to stay or agree to 'lend' money. I'm sorry if this sounds harsh, but the Airline Oxygen Rule applies here: that's the rule where if you're on an airplane in trouble, you put on your own oxygen mask first, then you can try to help someone else --- it doesn't do anyone any good if you pass out too instead of remaining conscious so you can help others.

As for Chris: yes, please contact their relative. Realistically, you are dealing with someone you honestly don't even know --- a slight acquaintance from 20 years ago, with a short re-acquaintance 12 years ago, then nothing until now? Chris is basically a total stranger to you. The best thing you can do --- for Chris, for you, for Chris's family --- is to ignore that promise not to do so, and to contact the relative at once.
posted by easily confused at 2:28 PM on November 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

Many, many years ago I had a friend like this (became different later due to mental illness) and we kept in touch by phone and snail mail and later, when it arrived, email. We lost touch as we went off to college and had busy lives. Then I thought, well, I wonder how he is doing? I looked him up via relatives I knew he had in my state. I just called and left a message saying I had not heard from him in a long time and that here was my name and number if they wanted to pass the information along.

They passed my information along, after talking to me first (looking back, it is obvious they wanted to make sure I was a normal person and really a friend and not someone looking to take advantage of his current mental state), and I heard from my old friend. He was thrilled to hear from me. We sent mail back and forth for quite a while, but I noticed that as time went on, the correspondence from him seemed very odd. Well, it turned out that he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and bipolar disorder in the interim and this was absolutely not something I could cope with.

He thought people were watching him, following him, etc., and he was being arrested for amazingly weird behavior that was often a result of what he thought other people were thinking or doing. I was not there to see it, but what he described from his point of view, especially when he was on versus off medications, was very frightening to me. On medications he was very normal, very much the person I knew, and was quite clear about his illnesses, and I talked to his family about this as well.

I tried to just be a normal pen pal for him, on the advice of his family (their suggestion if I wanted to stay in touch), but that just did not work. It was too disturbing, and I never knew who I'd get a letter or message from - the medicated friend who was the person I knew or the unmedicated person who was doing extremely strange things. There was just too much there and I could not deal with it. When I next moved, I did not give him my new information.

If it was me in your situation, I would contact the relative you know and say, "this person needs help and this is why I think that. I am not able to provide that help, and they seem unwilling to help themselves."

After that, you will have to decide if this is a relationship you want to continue or not, in light of the drain it is on your energy and your ability to deal with your own illness.
posted by AllieTessKipp at 2:30 PM on November 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have a relative who went through something similar. For them, it was schizoaffective disorder, but they did (and sometimes still do) experience paranoid delusions. It's really tough to know what to say in a situation where someone believes people are breaking into their house and hiding family photos or spying on them or whatever (as was the case for my relative).

I think your inclination not to engage is a good one. If it comes up in conversation again, I might go with, "That sounds really upsetting, but I don't think I'm equipped to help you with this." Of course, IANAD or a therapist, just someone with some personal experience so take this advice with a grain of salt.

If it was me in your situation, I would contact the relative you know and say, "this person needs help and this is why I think that. I am not able to provide that help, and they seem unwilling to help themselves."

I'll second this. Your concerns about getting in touch with the relative are understandable, but at this point, I really think that's your best bet, for Chris's benefit and for you. Once you let the relative know about the situation, I think you should feel totally free to disengage from the relationship.

This is not an easy situation to deal with, and it sounds like you have a lot of your own stuff to deal with, so please take care of yourself first and foremost.
posted by litera scripta manet at 2:41 PM on November 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Are you aware of a church Chris might be attending?

That might be a contact point and many religious leaders have some training for stepping into complicated situations like this.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 2:47 PM on November 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Several years ago, a long distance friend of mine was experiencing what were fairly obviously paranoid delusions. I knew they had a history of bipolar disorder, and that paranoia featured heavily in some of their worst times. At one point, they had given me their parent's email address for an unrelated reason (though I never contacted them). While they were telling me that people were out to get them, that lawyers had advised them to not leave the house because they might be killed, they also told me that I should not contact their parents (with whom they were living at the time) because they would just worry, and they knew as much about the situation as they needed to.

I emailed their parents. They ended up hospitalized until they could be stabilized on medication. Today, several years later, this person is doing far, far better. I felt bad breaking their trust at the time, but now, I have zero regrets. I knew I was not able to provide the help this person needed, and I knew that people closer to them would be more equipped to get them in touch with that help.

I'm sorry. This is a really tough situation, and I'll reiterate what everyone else said about taking care of yourself first.
posted by SugarAndSass at 2:48 PM on November 5, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: If you don't want to help, get away and don't contact Chris anymore. There's nothing you can say or do that will convince Chris that his/her beliefs are not real and true.

If you do want to help, your only avenue is to contact the relative and tell that person, "I'm really concerned about Chris. He/She is telling me things that sound implausible and downright delusional. I'm in no position to help, or to step in, perhaps you know someone who is. I'm concerned, and I'm totally out of my depth." You're not divulging anything told to you in confidence, but you are alerting that person to your concerns.

If Chris is living with family members, I hope to Christ that he/she is telling them what you are being told. At some point someone needs to have Chris evaluated.

If you want to talk to Chris, you can say, "Chris, while it's obvious that you're scared and confused about this, there are some things about your narrative that are problematic for me. I won't talk about this with you, but I will encourage you to go to a hospital and get evaluated."
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:49 PM on November 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

From an anonymous commenter:
Over the next months however it became clear that Chris was developing the belief - or had chosen to start revealing the belief to me - that the abuse had been the beginning of an organized campaign of persecution against them.

In some sense, this is not an entirely crazy way to interpret abusive situations. If you read up on it, it is not uncommon for other people to have some idea that something is not right, but they look the other way because they don't want to stir up trouble or they aren't sure and thus are unwilling to call the police without anything but vague suspicions and so on. So, if you are in an abusive situation, in some sense, yes, it can feel very, very much like the people around you are colluding against you.

Is it a wholly accurate interpretation? Not really. But, on some level, yes, when abusive things happen, in some sense, it happens because everyone fails to stop it. Many well meaning people can kind of dismiss the idea that it is as bad as it really is. The people who are abusing you may well be people in a position to prevent others from helping you.

I attended a wedding and I did not wish to sit with someone who had raped me and no one cared because at weddings you sit with your relatives, so that is where I was escorted and seated -- near a man who raped me. I got a first boyfriend who was older than me and the two male relatives who had molested me were part of a family conference wherein it was decided behind my back that this guy was too old for me and he was obviously just a rapist and so on. And they forbade me from saying goodbye to him and cut me off from him. He had never had intercourse with me. Unlike my male relatives, he was willing to take "no" for an answer and wait until I was ready. But the age difference made his position indefensible if the law got called in and the law would have agreed that my relatives were merely looking out for my best interest. No one would have believed me if I had told them that my rapists were preventing me from getting a boyfriend, probably out of jealousy and a need to still control me, even though they were no longer molesting me. If police had been called, it would have been a shit show and I likely would have ended up in a psych ward.

That is not to say Chris is correct that there is some kind of organized conspiracy. There was no organized conspiracy in my case. I am sure that neither of the men who molested me knew that the other one had done so at the time of the family meeting. I am sure that on some level, they believed they were, in fact, protecting me from a pedophile and rapist -- not because my boyfriend was either of those things, but because they were unable to see that not all men were like them. They were projecting their own tendencies on an innocent third party and there was no way I could have proven to authorities that this decision was evil fruit from an evil seed.

My past experience allowed me to actively encourage someone to flee an abusive situation. Their other friends did not think it was really that bad and were encouraging them to stay. After they fled, it became more apparent how truly terrible it was. The abusive relatives had connections and did, in fact, do things like managed to get an arrest warrant issued on trumped up charges.

So, given my experiences, I tend to err on the side of believing people if they do not trust a particular relative. If this were my friend, I would not contact the relative. As others are saying, yes, try to make sure you are safe. The reality is that if something really awful is going on in terms of multiple other people being problematic for this person, there may be nothing you can do other than try to do no harm. It may be beyond your ability to provide any kind of real help. The person who took my advice and fled -- they briefly left some of their stuff at a friends house and retrieved it on the way out of town. This friend of theirs got dragged into this shit show and, initially the friend's relatives were mad as hell about it -- until they met the abusers and saw firsthand how sick these people were. They covered for the escaping person, but then told them "Don't contact us again." Which was for the best for all parties. And I tell that to say this: If there really are dangerous people trying to do something bad to this person, which does, in fact, sometimes happen, you trying to help them may in no way protect them and may, in fact, just get you in over your head. So please do not try to insert yourself here. You do not sound qualified to handle it. I knew what I was doing and I had a good idea that I was probably beyond the reach of the relatives in question. I don't regret my actions. But I knew that I was dealing with dangerous people and this was not just someone making stuff up and I had dealt with that kind of thing before.

So, while it is possible the person is merely mentally ill, it is also possible they are trying to articulate something that, on some level, is real but they are doing a terrible job of trying to explain it. Or perhaps they are mentally ill because of the abuse and this is causing them to exaggerate or frame things in a particular way which sounds really crazy, but that doesn't mean they do not have genuine reasons to be concerned about you talking with their relatives and giving them information about them.

In situations where I am not clear what is really going on, for absolute sure, I try to err on the side of "first, do no harm." If I do not know for sure that someone is trustworthy, I try to say nothing to them.

I do not think you know enough about Chris and their life and their relatives to make sound judgment calls about whom to talk to and what to say to them. And it sounds like you don't know enough about dealing with potentially dangerous relatives to navigate that either should there be any truth to it.

I would try to be emotionally supportive, compassionate and understanding should Chris contact you again but explain that you simply are in no position to do some kind of rescue operation or even figure out what is going on and that you find it stressful to serve as a sounding board under the circumstances. See if you can't encourage Chris to find some kind of meaningful support that they would trust.
posted by mathowie at 3:01 PM on November 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

I had a relative who was sectioned twice with a diagnosis of BPD (this was some years ago). It is very likely that Chris's relative(s) are aware of their illness. If the relative mentioned tough times, I would assume that this is in part what they are referring to - as mentioned above, perhaps they thought that it would help Chris to develop a wider network of contacts. I would absolutely reach out to them and ask what they know of the medical support network around Chris, because you think Chris may be in need of more direct intervention than you can provide at this point.

You have been placed in a difficult position and you have my sympathy - there is nothing else you can do, really, apart from alerting people closer to the specific situation. You're not breaking a confidence so much as trying to provide practical care to someone in pain.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 3:08 PM on November 5, 2014

Can you clarify whether the relative is your relative or Chris's relative?

If Chris's relative, I would contact them and let them know and ask if they can alert the family safety net, who may be able to step in.

Many counties and cities in the US also have federally-funded organizations that can provide some outreach to community members who seem to be dealing with untreated severe mental illness. If you are willing to post Chris's location, I can see if I can find the appopriate agency and their contact information. (If you're not willing to post that, you can MeMail me; or you can try googling "[city or county name] "community mental health" " if you want to look on your own. The local NAMI page may also have a "Resources" link that lists the appropriate county or city behavioral/mental department.)

You could then contact that department, let them know what's going on, and give them Chris's number. Yes, it will totally inflame his paranoia if they call him, but those people will also have the ability (in most cases) to coordinate with the local law enforcement and hospitals to help him if he gets in trouble, and in the best-case scenario to start building a rapport with him and maybe eventually convincing him to come in and see a doctor.

I work for an agency like this, and this outreach work is part of my job, and one of the clients I've been working with came to our attention because someone across the country got a bizarre phone call from him and called us (because of the area code) and that's how we got involved.
posted by jaguar at 3:17 PM on November 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I have a brother with mental illness. What you descibe sounds very similar in that he contacts old (family) friends after years, and entagles them with his stories of persecution and swears them to secrecy, etc, demanding their help, eventually threating them if they refuse.

I think you should contact the relative who linked you up initially and just in a neutral sort of way ask for their take on this and depending on their response state your concern. Keep it neutral - if they know what you are talking about you wont need to go into details. If they don't then they can't help anyway.

You may be right that this will alienate "Chris", but honestly: anything you do might alienate a person with this type of problem. even if you do not contact the person you both know, Chris may well accuse you of having done so in an fit of paranoia, and all denial will be taken as further proof of your complicity.

And secondly, I think you are perfectly entitled to simply be available sometimes as a listening ear, once a month or whatever you are comfortable with, but not entering into the spirit of the story, and let this be the limit of your involvement.
If phone calls or texts start to get excessive lay down rules (1 time per week, or whatever you can handle).
I am grateful to anyone who manages to listens to my brother's rants but would never blame anyone who got sick of it. He calls people literally hourly and sometimes they contact me to check if it is ok they just answer once a week. Of course it is! Once a week is plenty.
What helps me when he calls with his theories of persecution is to validate his experience while not agreeing with him: he: the cashier at the supermarket gave me an evil look, and will report my purchases to headquarters. I: you feel the cashier was acting wrongly. So in this way I don't agree but acknowledge how he feels.

But even cutting Chris off entirely is ok. It takes tremenous energy out of you to even just listen to someone like that and if you need to conserve your energies for your own troubles, let Chris go. It may sound cruel but after observing my brother's behaviour for decades I know that someone with mental disturbance requires professional help, and ultimately I cannot save him and nor can our friends.

Lastly, you mention sharing a faith - can you direct Chris to some help from fellow believers of that faith the next time they call/text? eg. "you know, I have health (or whatever) problems right now myself and am unable to see you but check out the offer of X prayer group, I value them a lot".

best wishes
posted by 15L06 at 3:47 PM on November 5, 2014

Best answer: You're right that diagnoses can't be made over the Internet; the anonymous commenter is correct that sometimes there are abusive, persecutory dynamics within families or groups. What there are absolutely not are strangers on the street being paid to whisper about passersby. It's not a diagnosis to name a symptom, and this is absolutely a paranoid delusion.

What that symptom is caused by, what the "diagnosis" is could be a whole range of things. Most of that range of things gets much more unpleasant the longer they go untreated and, for that reason I would not hesitate to contact the family member or a religious leader.

If it makes you feel any better, you're not violating your friend's trust in the manner we usually think though they'd sworn you to secrecy about an unrequited love or some such. It's much more analogous to, say, your friend hit his or her head and it's super obvious s/he has a concussion, but impaired judgement from the concussion is keeping him/her from seeking medical care.
posted by The Noble Goofy Elk at 5:15 PM on November 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I appreciate everyone's advice particularly those drawing from their personal experience. Given the preponderance of advice I'm inclined to do my best to see that someone trustworthy with a more direct and active connection with "Chris" is aware of the situation. I'm considering the best way to go about this. I also appreciate the reminders to take care of myself and to be appropriately circumspect given the unpredictability of Chris' condition.
posted by Luke Skywalker at 9:31 PM on November 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Just a few clarifications and answers to questions in case there is follow-up advice: the relative referred to is a close relative of Chris'. As to where they live and resources there, I only know their state, not city or county. We share a religion only in a broad, general sense, I don't know what specific church they belong to or any clergy they might be connected to.
posted by Luke Skywalker at 9:40 PM on November 5, 2014

In general, it's also good to keep in mind that unless Chris is in serious immediate danger (which generally means he's actively suicidal, or else so disabled by his mental illness that he's refusing or unable to eat or to avail himself of housing options or that he's so out of it he's putting himself in danger, like wandering into traffic), no one can really force him into treatment (and even then, it's complicated and difficult). I think it's a great idea to make sure people who can help him are aware that he likely needs help, but be aware that that might be all you can do, and that's ok.

There's a line that everyone's walking between making sure people in need don't get hurt and making sure no one loses their right to autonomy without really good reason, and a lot of friends and family of people with mental illness can get frustrated or demoralized at the inability to force someone into treatment. It can be really helpful to manage your expectations accordingly -- activating a safety net is a great goal, even if it doesn't result in an immediate change in Chris's functioning. A person with mental illness and an engaged social safety net is in a much better position than a person with mental illness and no social safety net.
posted by jaguar at 10:04 PM on November 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

You are getting really great advice here. I've been in similar situations twice, and both times somebody (not me, but friends) contacted the family. It's the right thing to do. You can't hold this by yourself -- it's not your job and you don't have the capacity -- and so the right thing to do is make sure the person's family members are in the loop. Jaguar above is right that there is a limit to what even close family members can achieve in a situation like this, particularly if the person is not a physical threat to others. But that's their problem to solve, and it would be a kindness to bring it to their attention. They probably have some inkling, but they may not know how bad it's gotten.

And you should feel fine to block/drop Chris if you want to. You're not close and you can't actually help, so there's no point in you suffering unnecessarily.

Oh and also -- don't feel bad about breaking your promise. Even if you find Chris irritating and would love to be rid of him/her, that's a side effect. Right now Chris isn't rational and can't take care of him or herself. Think of yourself as holding a higher loyalty here -- to the healthy Chris, who actually would probably want you to tell.
posted by Susan PG at 10:39 PM on November 5, 2014

Response by poster: I just wanted to post a quick follow up. I took the preponderance of advice and did contact the family member who'd originally reached out to me on Chris' behalf.

As some suggested was likely it turned out that this was very much a known issue and that the family is doing their best to manage it and get Chris help. I'm not going to get into any more details out of respect for everyone involved. I'm glad I took the advice to reach out, and I believe it was the correct advice, though in this case it turned out to be basically moot.

There has been no further response from Chris and I don't know if there will be but if there is I will continue to offer my friendship and emotional support while asserting that I can't and won't engage with the issues of these particular beliefs. Thanks again to everyone who gave advice.
posted by Luke Skywalker at 11:49 AM on December 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Finally I've marked this resolved (my core issue being resolved as much as it's likely to) and marked several answers I found most helpful - but I want to reiterate how much I appreciate all answers, especially those from people sharing their direct experience with family or friends.
posted by Luke Skywalker at 12:00 PM on December 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

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