Support for Those Impacted by Mental Illness During a Pandemic
April 12, 2020 9:14 AM   Subscribe

My brother is dangerously mentally ill. What kind of resources are available to his family during this time?

My brother has schizophrenia and has become unstable such that he is dangerous to himself and possibly others. The authorities are aware but are doing nothing, which is almost desirable as intervention is the thing likeliest to trigger some sort of horrible meltdown.

Given everything else that is currently going on, what kind of resources exist in the U.S. to support families undergoing this kind of trauma? It seems selfish to take up resources during this time, but I am at a loss. My brother is utterly, completely resistant to help. He only speaks to a few family members who don't try to push back against his delusions.

This isn't the kind of thing I feel I can unload on my normal, happyish friends or my normal, happyish boss. I don't know how explain my absentmindedness, or honestly, how little of a fuck I can currently give with respect to my job. I feel like I am living in some kind of limbo, waiting for the worst to happen, and I can really just use any advice or resources that anyone can point my way.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You didn't say in your post if you are already making use of some of the support options offered by NAMI but they do have a special page on COVID-19 information and resources.
posted by jessamyn at 9:26 AM on April 12 [1 favorite]

By intervention do you mean hospitalization? Because when someone who is psychiatrically ill is a danger to himself or herself, that is a psychiatric emergency and requires evaluation at the least (and often hospitalization for med mgmt). Is there a psychiatric emergency response team in your area you can reach out to? (Also I’ll point out that being resistant to help and/or having no insight is often a symptom of the illness.)

And yes COVID is happening, but it is 100% not selfish to use resources available to you. (And honestly, as a psychiatrist, I am extra worried about my patients with severe mental illness like schizophrenia right now—seems they have been forgotten in this time.)
posted by namemeansgazelle at 9:28 AM on April 12 [9 favorites]

Depending on your locality there are more and more things coming into place. Some people with severe mental illness over utilize emergency rooms but are to well for psychatric placement and too sick for shelters. These people are really really at risk and some US localities are trying to establish spaces for them that have some supportive services. Assertive community treatment is a modality to look into, but there are long waiting lists and not a short term solution, but they do provide connection and structure to people with severe mental illnes.
posted by AlexiaSky at 10:19 AM on April 12

I know this question was more about you, and aside from NAMI, an individual therapist may be useful for you. There are support groups for caregivers of all kinds, and as things have moved online you may find something that works for you. I wrote the above more to tell you that people are thinking about this and know that these people have very little awareness of the current situation and are a vulnerable group. There are people out there trying to do things for them right now.
posted by AlexiaSky at 10:23 AM on April 12

For some people a reactivation of schizophrenia symptoms has turned out to be a symptom of COVID-19. I don't know if that's relevant for your brother, but it might be worth considering.

National Post: Anything can be COVID-19: As pandemic grinds on, doctors find early definitions of disease were too narrow [April 7th, 2020]
posted by Secret Sparrow at 11:54 AM on April 12 [3 favorites]

Not sure where you are located , but as AlexiaSky mentioned, some areas will have psychiatric response teams, which can go by many labels, including “mobile crisis” teams. Basically it is a set of area providers that you can call to provide an assessment on location, 24/7.

NAMI is the resource for families with loved ones living with mental illness.

Also, and I hesitate to say anything because I know this is not what the question is about...but I strongly suspect that your friends would want to know that you are dealing with something really heavy and they would not at all feel burdened by that information. Maybe the same with your boss (not knowing the nature or your work, it’s just a guess of course). I’m a therapist and I’ve noticed that it is often those who are dealing with really big things that keep them in, and I think doing so magnifies the pain into isolation and suffering. (I hope my saying that isn’t overstepping a boundary. If you feel it doesn’t apply, please disregard that part of my response.)

Lastly, I’ve worked in inpatient settings and have met many family members of people with persistent mental illness, and I just want to recognize how scary and hard it can be at times like this. It is not selfish to use services to get help. I was always struck by how as a mental health professional, I was never “alone” - I was supported by my colleagues and supervisors, the institution, area providers, the police, and so on, whereas family members often feel (or are made to feel) that they have to somehow make the impossible happen all on their own. I guess my point is that I hope you can access self-compassion in this situation - you cannot see into the future and have limited exercisable agency over another person. Wishing you the best.
posted by dreamphone at 4:58 PM on April 12 [5 favorites]

Reach out to NAMI in the area where your brother lives. They likely have a very in-depth understanding.
posted by saveyoursanity at 8:19 PM on April 12

I just went through this exact same thing last week with a member of my family. I had to convince the police bring my family member to the psych hospital because they were a danger to themselves. In fact, I’m writing this from someone’s couch that I am sleeping on, because I’m back in town to pick my relative up when they’re discharged in about 9 hours.

I’ve had to deal with this multiple times, and it is the worst thing I’ve ever had to deal with, including the deaths of my parents. The stress is miles beyond anything else. You just want everything to go back to normal, but you know it can’t. It sucks, it’s not fair, it’s embarrassing, the system is horrible, and somehow you have to figure out how to keep going anyway.

People are recommending NAMI; I haven’t used them, but if you’re in the USA, I hear they’re a very good resource.

I read somewhere that if you listen to random gong sounds, your brain tries to find patterns, and when it can’t, it slips into a type of brain wave that is conducive to sleep, and is therefore relaxing. So I listen to a YouTube playlist of random gong sounds. It does help.

I don’t know your work situation, but I’ve found I have no choice but to tell my supervisor. I’ve been dealing with this since 2013, and something I’ve discovered is that schizophrenia is like cancer, in that almost everyone has a connection to someone who has dealt with it. Their cousin’s kid; their neighbor’s parent, their friend from college - a surprising number of people have had to deal with this and are compassionate and sympathetic. Anyone who isn’t compassionate can go fuck themselves; you don’t have time or energy to deal with that.

Does your brother have a doctor? Have you called them and told them what’s going on? They will know the system better than you, and may have more ideas about how to get your brother immediate help. And no, it is absolutely not selfish to “use resources”. For one thing, you’re not trying to help yourself, you’re trying to help someone else, so that’s not selfish.

I hesitate to give you more advice about this because I don’t know where you’re located, but in the US, I have called the non-emergency phone number for the police and told them my family member is schizophrenic and needs to go to the hospital. I tell the police that they are off their meds, they have never been a danger to anyone else, they have no weapons and there are no dogs in the house. I am present when the police arrive and I give them every bit of evidence I have that the person is a danger to themselves, so that they will call an ambulance or crisis team to bring them to the hospital.

I can give you more specific suggestions, but I don’t want to do it on a public page. *Please* feel free to MeMail me if you want to talk more about this.

Most importantly, remember to “put on your own oxygen mask first”. Take long, slow breaths when the stress becomes overwhelming. Consider taking vitamin B supplements to help with your nerves. And yes, reach out to friends. I have a private twitter account that’s only followed by 15-20 friends - I use it to vent whenever my relative’s situation flares up. It almost doesn’t matter if anyone responds to my tweets there; it helps just to get it out.

And there is light at the end of the tunnel. It has taken since 2013, but my relative has finally agreed to take the long-lasting injections of meds, which will keep then from becoming unmedicated. They got tired of having to rebuild their life over and over again. Also, there are new drugs being worked on that are expected to become available within the next 10 years or so. These drugs work in different ways than the old drugs, and there’s a lot of hope that they will be life changing for schizophrenics.
posted by MexicanYenta at 2:45 AM on April 13 [4 favorites]

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