Apologies for the length of this message, but it’s a complex problem to explain.
I’m a middle-aged man whose mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia when I was a child. During my childhood and my teenage years, my mum was in and out of hospital, but did the best she could in bringing me up. For most of my adult life, my mum’s mental health has been stable and I’ve had a good relationship with my mum and stepdad, but over the last few years her mental health has slowly deteriorated. Her behaviour became increasingly difficult for me to cope with, while my stepdad insisted that her behaviour was OK and expected me to accept it too.
Three years ago things became so bad that I felt I had no choice but to cut off contact with them both, as I was worried that if I kept in contact I risked having a nervous breakdown myself. I feel I’ve done the best I could in very difficult circumstances, but still feel guilty for cutting off contact when my mum has done so much for me in the past, and feel that there must be something more I can do to help. I’m looking for any suggestions of what I can do, as I’ve tried various things and none of them have worked.
For many years, my mum’s mental health problems were kept under control through a combination of medication (Risperidone) and counselling provided by a Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN). Unfortunately the counselling was withdrawn a few years ago due to funding cuts. Since then, her mental health has slowly worsened despite continuing to take her medication, and she has become increasingly paranoid. She would regularly warn me about different types of people who were not to be trusted, and about dangers in situations that others would perceive to be safe. She would get angry with me if I questioned or disagreed with any of her paranoid thoughts, and my stepdad would take my mum’s side in any argument.
Over time, my stepdad came round to my mum’s way of thinking, and started bombarding me with text messages, echoing my mum’s paranoid thoughts. I coped with this by reducing contact with them both, so I would ignore any paranoid texts, only phone them once or twice a month, and only visit them occasionally (they live hundreds of miles away). The phone calls normally lasted about two hours and left me feeling emotionally drained. The circle of people who my mum trusted gradually shrank, until she came to distrust my girlfriend and her family, and eventually to distrust me too.
Because I had reduced contact, my mum got angry at me and accused me of deserting her in her old age. I explained that my girlfriend and I were finding it extremely difficult to cope with her behaviour, especially as she kept forcing me to relive traumatic experiences from my own childhood. When I explained how upsetting I found this, she belittled it, saying that as a man I should easily be able to cope, and that listening to her problems was nothing compared to the stresses of bringing up children. My stepdad supported her point of view, saying that I need to be prepared to make sacrifices for my mum because she did a lot for me when I was growing up.
This all ended in a phone call where my mum got angry and put the phone down on me, at which point I cut off contact, blocking their phone numbers and diverting their text messages to a ‘spam’ folder, which I checked periodically in case of any important news about my mum’s health. My stepdad continued to bombard me with text messages for another year, mostly echoing my mum’s paranoid thoughts, interspersed with a few texts blaming me and/or the medical profession for everything that had happened. After that, the texts suddenly stopped and I haven’t heard from them since.
All through this time, my mum insisted that she was mentally well and that everyone else’s behaviour was at fault. Because of her paranoia, she now completely distrusts the medical profession. She has been diagnosed with diabetes, but refuses to accept the diagnosis or take any treatment because she doesn’t have the ‘classic’ symptoms of constant thirst and frequent urination. She was shown the NHS Direct webpages about diabetes, but my mum and stepdad dismissed them as being fundamentally flawed and insisted that the doctors wanted to kill her with diabetes medication.
After I cut off contact, I wrote to my mum’s GP explaining the situation. I received no reply, but it was decided that she would now have to undergo a Mental Health Act Assessment every few months. Each time she has an assessment, she and my stepdad work together to persuade the panel that no change is needed to her treatment. Therefore, she remains ill, while my stepdad continues to support her, and all the rest of their family and friends have now cut off contact with them.
I have also written to my MP about the cuts to the CPN service and the impact on my mum’s health. My MP advised me to write to my mum’s local Clinical Commissioning Group, which I did, but again I received no reply.
I am trying to work out if there is anything else I can do to help. I can’t speak to my stepdad about it privately, as he shares a mobile phone and landline with my mum, they read each other’s texts and open each other’s letters. I could write them a letter explaining that I still love them but that their behaviour has been unacceptable and explaining why I have cut off contact, but I think this will only inflame the situation. They already see me as being entirely to blame for the estrangement, and writing a letter will only reinforce this idea.
I could try writing to them with practical advice, such as details of mental health charities’ helplines, but I fear that this will only rekindle my mum’s anger, as she is adamant that she is mentally well and kept getting angry at me if I questioned any of her delusional thoughts. It is unlikely that she would contact a mental health charity, as she deeply distrusts mental health professionals and all other health workers, and my stepdad supports her in her view that these people are not to be trusted.
To summarise: I can’t see how I can help my mum when part of her illness is that she refuses to believe that she’s ill, and when my stepdad is enabling her to remain ill by agreeing with everything she says. From what I can see, the only way she’ll get treatment is if her health becomes even worse so she’s sectioned, or if my stepdad takes ill so he’s no longer available to look after her.
Does anyone have any suggestions as to how I can help my mum and stepdad, apart from waiting and hoping that one day things will improve? As my mum’s son, I feel it’s my duty to help but I feel powerless to do so. I’m an only child and don’t have a close extended family, so there are no other family members who would be able to help.