What can I do about my unbalanced mother?
January 24, 2007 9:28 AM   Subscribe

PsychologyFilter: Help me. My mother's fantasy is escalating and becoming more dangerous.

PsychologyFilter: Help me. My mother's fantasy is escalating and becoming more dangerous.

I'll try to be as brief as possible with the historical information.

My mother has a history of psychological problems. She's been diagnosed with everything from: Multiple Personality Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Borderline Personality Disorder.

She's exceptional at manipulating therapists and doctors. Regular people too.

Her hobbies include: Scoring narcotics prescriptions, mixing prescriptions with booze, talking on the phone for hours, and threatening to sue everyone.

She's married to a guy, my step-dad, who has pathological criminal tendencies.

His hobbies include: Drinking and commiting crimes he blames on the drinking. Crimes which include breaking into my house and calling the police claiming he's bleeding to death from a gunshot wound in my house. FYI: If they think there's a gunshot victim in your house, they send the SWAT team and point guns at everyone. He also likes to cut on himself. His latest diagnosis is Bipolar.

Since last summer My step-dad has been claiming that he is coming into a large inheritance from his millionaire programmer brother in California. Supposedly the brother committed suicide. I can find no evidence of the brother or the suicide, my stepfather is from California.

During this past summer, I had to go to the bank and explain to the shaking bank manager. That she had not botched a wire transfer, it was not lost. The transfer she could not find, did not exist. In her defense, she was new to the job and had not had any experience with my mother or stepfather.

The fantasy of this money has only grown for my mother over time. A whole cast of unverifiable characters have entered the mix. Every single weekend someone is supposedly flying in and hand delivering the “bearer bonds”. Every single weekend no one shows up.

Normally this wouldn't be of any concern, but she's started throwing away many of her things. What she doesn't throw away she gives away. She's stopped paying her rent and utilities. Because she'll make it right when the money comes. She calls several times a day because she wants to go over the details that she expects me to handle with all her new money. These behaviors concern me a great deal, mostly because they're new. Throwing and giving away most especially; she's a huge pack rat.

The police no longer take anything to do with my mother or stepfather seriously.

I don't know what to do. I've tried to appeal to her logically demonstrating that there is no money and she should start working out things with her landlord and everyone else. I'm told it's my negative attitude that keeps things from coming true. When I just try to push off her discussion of “how things will be handled” with “let's just cross that bridge when we come to it,” I'm told that if I'm not prepared it'll ruin everything. I'm extremely frightened because behaviour like this has never gone on this long before. Her fantasies always end with her precipitating some crisis. The crisis is usually proportional to the fantasy. I don't know how this will end.

Do I attempt to have my mother declared incompetent? I have no idea how to start that process. Do I just wait and hope it blows over? Should I just not worry and hope for the best? Are there agencies that handle this kind of thing? Do I call the government (she gets SSI for obvious reasons) and tell them she's not reporting income and hope they can shake her out of it?

I feel like something can be done now because my stepfather is currently in the crazy house, but still feeding her the story from there.

I understand that this question is very broad and may not belong here and may be deleted.
posted by SinisterPurpose to Human Relations (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Emergency mental health comes to mind. Their history with the police alone should be enough to qualify for what we call in MA a Section 12. It’s forced care of sorts.
posted by paxton at 9:36 AM on January 24, 2007

How old is you mom? Does she have any support structure besides yourself- other children, siblings, parents, friends, groups?
posted by bkeene12 at 9:38 AM on January 24, 2007

I think... a lawyer... to get help you protect your finances and perhaps begin the commitment process before she is homeless and establish power of attorney...
posted by ewkpates at 9:42 AM on January 24, 2007

She is 51. It's basically me and my brother (lives more than an hour away). I knew I should have included this: Neither of us are in a position to live with her or support her financially. She has trouble maintaining relationships.
posted by SinisterPurpose at 9:42 AM on January 24, 2007

Call a social worker. If you or your mother are church going, they may be found through there. If not, there may be a local nonprofit agency, or you may find one that works through the county (in the U.S. a lot of cities have Community Mental Health centers.)

Try this or this if she lives near you.
posted by JeremiahBritt at 9:44 AM on January 24, 2007

I had a roomie like this... very delusional... my solution was to run, as fast as I could, not give her my new phone number or address, and never talk to her again. However, with your mom, you probably want to take care of her, I think that you probably could get some sort of state-enforced psychological care, considering the history with the police.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 9:48 AM on January 24, 2007

It is time to look for some State run care. I know it sounds bad but I don't see how it is going to get any better for her. Further, if you don't nip this in the bud now it is going to get a lot worse for you. Her problems are going to increase ten fold if she continues on her present course. Whatsmore, time seems to be her enemy as she seems to have become more delusional over the years. Talk to her psychological care provider and have her committed as soon as possible. You might have to say that she is a danger to herself.
posted by bkeene12 at 9:52 AM on January 24, 2007

Professional help. You seem to be in Wisconsin; according to this page, call the appropriate county mental health department.
posted by jellicle at 9:55 AM on January 24, 2007

The Winnebago County Dept. of Human Services may be able to help. (920-236-4600) Call, explain the situation and ask what you should do.
If she doesn't live in Winnebago county, here's a list of Wisconsin resources (.pdf)

Good luck, I know it isn't easy.
posted by Floydd at 9:58 AM on January 24, 2007

You're ein WI? Start by calling the local County Social services agency (.pdf) Tell them you have a parent who you are concerned may no longer be able to make rational choices because of deteriorating mental health issues, and need to speak with someone about what to do/what steps to take to get her help. Include the bits about her most likely refusing treatment.

Tangentially: has your mom ever been on medications, and has it helped? The diagnosis' you mention can all exist at the same time. I would be wary of the "multiple personalities" diagnosis as it often is misapplied and is quite rare, BPD/PTSD often go hand in hand depending on circumstances. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy has shown to be effective in some cases of BPD.

Good luck. This is an issue that will never go away completely and will always be difficult, but there will be better times. Make sure to treat yourself well.
posted by edgeways at 9:59 AM on January 24, 2007

posted by edgeways at 9:59 AM on January 24, 2007

This is pretty big trouble in my opinion. Your mother and stepfather have evolved their own private cargo cult.

When final disconfirmation occurs, suicide would seem to be a risk. It's a very difficult situation from any point of view, and I don't think you can hold yourself responsible if things go really wrong because you do not have the power to do much about it at this point. You can try to have your mother declared incompetent (the criteria are generally very hard to meet) or you might try to have an involuntary commitment set up ahead of time.
posted by jamjam at 10:20 AM on January 24, 2007

"Do I call the government (she gets SSI for obvious reasons) and tell them she's not reporting income and hope they can shake her out of it?"

As someone who represents a lot of SSI recipients, my advice is, whatever you do, do not call the Social Security Administration to report that she is receiving income until she actually receives it. They will not do anything to help the situation. They will not "shake her out of it." As harsh as this sounds, they do not care about her.

One thing they can do is appoint someone responsible to receive her check on her behalf and make sure that is spent wisely. The Social Security Administration calls that person a "representative payee." She may already have one. If not, it might be a good idea to contact the local Field Office and express your concerns about her not paying her rent or utilities and see if you can be appointed her representative payee. It would go a whole lot smoother if she agreed to it. It will not be easy being her representative payee, but you will at least know her rent and utilities are being paid.

Ultimately, you may need to have her declared incompetent and have a guardian appointed. Becoming a representative payee is a smaller, less invasive, if you will, procedure that does not involve courts, lawyers, etc.

Where I live, if one filed a report for adult protective services with the local Department of Social Services for this kind of behavior, the DSS would intervene and, if the situation warranted it, take steps to have her declared incompetent. I guess I am now just seconding edgeways and ffloyd.

Good luck to you. I feel for you.
posted by pasici at 11:33 AM on January 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Lawyer first, then based on her or his advice, Social Services.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:16 PM on January 24, 2007

help you protect your finances

I think this is very important. Find a lawyer and figure out what, if anything, can be put in place *now* so that you are not legally responsible for her debts, damages, etc.

Of course, you may consider yourself morally responsible, and may want to settle them, but it's better to have that be a choice rather than a legal requirement that may damage your credit history, etc.
posted by librarina at 12:25 PM on January 24, 2007

"Find a lawyer and figure out what, if anything, can be put in place *now* so that you are not legally responsible for her debts, damages, etc"

In the US in the early 21st century, children are not yet responsible for their parents debts simply due to bloodline though I'm sure the debt industry is working to change that.

That doesn't mean that you might not have other legal entanglements that place your own assets at risk. Have you cosigned for anything with your mother or stepfather? Do you have any joint accounts with either of them them, like perhaps a savings account from when you were a kid (a friend had money seized that she'd earned when her father declared bankruptcy because she'd put it in her old savings account that he was named on). Have you taken out a credit report to make sure they haven't applied for any accounts in your name?

Good luck to you. It's so hard when you want to help your parents and they don't want to help themselves.
posted by Good Brain at 1:11 PM on January 24, 2007

Seconding pasici's advice to try the Representative Payee route. It might also be a good idea to talk to her doctor(s) and pharmacist(s); I have no idea whether this violates privacy laws, only that it seems prudent. And maybe have her helped by some agency as described above.
posted by davy at 3:54 PM on January 24, 2007

Nthing the idea of a payee who then pays your mother's bills. Also, just realistically, by definition (as an SSI recipient) your mother doesn't have much in the way of assets to give away. So if she gives away her furniture or clothes, well, her life will go on. If the utilities get cut off, well, she can eventually pay to get them turned back on.

The only somewhat worrisome part is keeping the lease. (Is your mother in subsidized housing (where she pays 30 percent or whatever of her income)?) You might want to call the landlord/manager to state that you are working to get the rent paid. (Just to stall for a little time.) Also, if there's an eviction process, your mother will hopefully wake up enough to pay the arrears.

So, assuming that she doesn't get evicted, the damage she can cause herself financially is somewhat limited.

Aside: What is it with AskMe that so quickly jumps to involuntary treatment as the answer? It's not particularly easy to implement under current laws. It's not particularly effective. It can traumatize people and cause more damage; on the flip side, it can prevent suicide in times of crisis. (Here, there's no evidence that the person is suicidal.) I think people want quick & science-y-medication fixes to scary mental health problems, but there's rarely such a solution. Even if all of the laws were changed tomorrow to permit all kinds of involuntary treatment regardless of any imminent threat to self or others (not something I would support), there's no guarantee or evidence that outcomes would improve.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 6:45 PM on January 24, 2007

You need to get Power of Attorney over their finances.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 7:43 PM on January 24, 2007

Some form of conservatorship may be what you eventually want. This can delineate areas of control you have over her life and areas you do not (financial, medical...). It is less drastic than outright guardianship. Weather or not you seek a commitment should be predicated to how big a risk she is to seriously harm herself, or cause harm to others.
You are not responsible for her debt, talking to a lawyer for the initial aspect will, most likely be a waste of time/money. Talking to one in setting up a conservatorship or rep payee may be beneficial, but a knowledgeable case manager from the county will most likely know just as much.

In regards to the step-dad. next time he breaks in press charges. Oh, er, it might be good to have the county act as rep-payee. If you are the rep-payee then you are going to get a lot of pressure from mom/step-dad for access to the $ for all sorts of things. Sometimes there are advantages to soulless bureaucracy, it's harder to stalk them.
posted by edgeways at 7:46 PM on January 24, 2007

You're under no obligation to be the payee and it sounds like your mother is beyond interacting with you logically or healthily when it comes to money. If there is such a thing as a neutral third party payee that might be ideal here. I think Edgeways is absolutely right that if you start consistently identifying and treating specific criminal acts by your step-dad as such, that will be good rather than bad even if there is short-term negative reaction from your mom. What he did with the bank (claiming there was a transfer when there wasn't) also seems to be illegal although I don't know enough detail to know that. I wish you all the best and really admire your thoughtfulness & persistence.
posted by lorimer at 8:01 PM on January 24, 2007

I would also agree (having had a lot of conversation about this with an friend who was institutionalized without his consent) that forced care is a major step. The point I meant to make in my comment above is that being very clear and firm about both your mom's and your step-dad's actions could be an intermediate step. Saying (and conveying via your actions) that it's never okay to break into your house, that it's not okay to stop paying rent until there's proof (not promise) of money, etc. I wish I had a better understanding and I think I (and perhaps many of the responders here) may be missing the point to a great extent because we don't have personal experience with people who are truly living in denial / living in a fantasy world.
posted by lorimer at 8:07 PM on January 24, 2007

If your mom is receiving benefits via SSI, don't report her to those authorities. They could easily take her benefits away and getting them back will prove extremely difficult or impossible. My mom is on a variety of programs and is a bit on the crazy side at times. I would never dream of reporting her to any of the sources of her assistance in order to "scare her straight." So yeah, please don't do that.
posted by lorrer at 7:37 AM on January 25, 2007

Practical evidence - save every letter, every email. Record your phone calls. Record 'strange' conversations, take video of abnormal behavior.
posted by electric_bonzai at 8:01 AM on July 2, 2007

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