|Schizophrenia Information > Assisted/Involuntary Treatment
Helping a family member who has schizophrenia but doesn't know they are ill
A very common question we get at this web site is "How do I get help for my seriously mentally ill family member who is exhibiting all the classic symptoms of schizophrenia - major delusions, paranoia, etc. but who won't see a doctor and who doesn't think anything is wrong with them?" Our response is as follows:
This is the toughest problem that I think a family can face. In my family's case we struggled for 10 absolutely horrible and terrifying years to help get my brother treatment. We failed in this effort, and my brother committed suicide (which between 15% and 25% of those with schizophrenia have historically done - the percentage is significantly higher for males than females). Like with any serious disease, the sooner you get treatment the better. However, unlike other diseases there are currently many laws that make it extremely difficult to help the mentally ill get the medications from which they would benefit. Until the laws are changed, there are a number of tactics that people seem to take when faced with this problem. Talking with other families in similar situations, I've learned that things that have worked for them include:
1. The Journal - First of all, families that are succesful in getting treatment for their ill family member usually keep a very detailed journal or diary of the patient's strange behavior and thoughts (ideally on the computer so you can save multiple copies of it and print it out as needed for professionals) - see the following web link for full details on this important step: http://www.schizophrenia.com/family/diaryimp.htm
This journal/diary may also be valuable later when you try to get financial assistance for your family member. See the following link: Getting Social Security for Mentally Ill Family Member
2. A Good Psychiatrist: Families typically work at finding a good psychiatrist (not a regular MD, psychologist or "therapist" who are not medically trained in schizophrenia) recommended by other families who are successfully getting their family member treated for schizophrenia. You can do this by joining a local support group for the mentally ill and talking to the other families with mentally ill siblings or family members. See the following link to do this: Support Groups
3. Preparation: Families try to talk to these psychiatrists before their family member gets treatment - to make sure they have all the diary information, and to make sure that these doctors would, if they were to treat your family member, give them the newest, best medications so that you have the highest probability of successful treatment. See the following medications web page for more info on this: Schizophrenia Medications
4. Meds from Mexico - Other families have, I have heard, bought medications down in Mexico where prescriptions and inexpensive medications are very easy to get. If you could get the medications down there you might be able to talk your family member into taking the medications, since many people with schizophrenia are paranoid about going to doctors.
5. When All Else Has Failed: Finally, if the person who has schizophrenia is over the legal age (typically 19 years old), families or friends -- after trying every possible method to get help for their family member -- may end up lying and just saying that the family member is suicidal, or has attempted to harm others. This satisfies the legal requirements that a person is "a danger to self or others" and can be treated involuntarily (after specific legal steps are taken - specific to your state or country). However the families that are successful in getting treatment with this approach also are sure to work closely with the doctors to make sure that the person is going to get longer term treatment - frequently what hospitals will do is just give the person medication for a few days, then put them out on the streets. The length of time for the medication to fully work is typically much longer (weeks) and the mentally ill person quits the medications as soon as they leave the hospital. This of course helps nobody. Again, work with the doctors to make sure they understand the problem, and have a full plan on how to get longer term treatment for the person. After they have begun treatment you also have to be sure that they do not get depressed - suicide risk continues to be high for those with schizophrenia for the first 6 month immediately after treatment with the medications. Many families recommend that you try to get anti-depressant medications prescribed also in case depression becomes an issue. Be sure to make you home as "suicide proof" as possible - families generally take out all guns, poisons, ropes, large knives, etc. from the home.
6. Changing the Laws the Prevent Treatment: Work to change the laws that prevent our society from getting treatment for people with brain disorders. I've seen estimates by leading researchers that in the USA between 25% and 50% of the homeless, and 10% to 20% of those in jail, have schizophrenia or a related illness. This is a further unnecessary tragedy. We don't force people with Alzheimers disease to wander the streets - why do we as a society not provide those with other brain diseases like schizophrenia the benefit of medical treatment when they are too ill to realize it? You can make a difference - most people don't understand schizophrenia, so if the situation is to change, you need to do something about it! After you've gotten your family member into treatment, consider working to change laws and funding so treatment is more accessible.
One new organization in the United States that is working for better treatment of people who have schizophrenia or other brain disorders but who lack insight into the disease, is the Treatment Advocacy Center - If you live in the US and have a personal story about the difficulties getting get help for a mentally ill friend or relative due to existing laws, I encourage you to send them your story by email. Their website also has extensive resources on current medical/legal laws in various US states, and how to utilize the resources in your area to get the best treatment possible.
7. Don't give up! - There are billions of dollars being invested in brain research each year, and thousands of researchers around the world are working on better understanding and treating schizophrenia. There are already many good, new medications that are helping people a great deal. Also, over 80 new medications addressing brain disorders (over 16 addressing schizophrenia alone) are currently in development and will be available in the next few years - already people who are taking these medications on trials programs have mentioned in our discussion areas here that they are returning to work, and are feeling much, much better. Your family member or friend could be one one of those people soon!