Annie’s Mailbox: The right medicine for a mentally ill sibling?
December 20, 2010
Dear Annie: My 30-year-old sister is mentally ill and currently lives with my mother. "Stacy" used to live in her own place, but in the past six years, she has become gradually more dependent. She refuses to go anywhere alone and will no longer use the telephone or Internet at all. She has no interaction with anyone outside the immediate family.
I'm concerned about Stacy's well-being, but I'm also worried about my mother, who has become her caregiver. Mom works 80 hours a week and has health issues and needs all the sleep she can get. Stacy shares a room with her and wakes her up frequently during the night to tell her about the voices she's hearing and the symptoms she's having. She's very demanding and won't leave Mom alone for five minutes.
I don't know what to do. I fear for my sister's future. My mother says she will eventually live in a group home, but anytime the subject is brought up, Stacy gets angry and says she'll never go. She doesn't recognize that she has an illness and is always going off her medication. She's been in the hospital repeatedly.
There are no other family members to take care of Stacy, and even if someone offered, she would refuse. Any advice?
— Blame the Disease, Not the Person
Dear Blame: It is not uncommon for those with mental illness to prefer to be unmedicated, and sometimes this reluctance can be eased with an adjustment in dosage or change in prescription. Your mother should talk to Stacy's doctor. Also, please contact the National Alliance on Mental Illness (nami.org) at 1-800-950-NAMI (1-800-950-6264). They can provide information, referrals and support, and their Family-to-Family program offers education and coping strategies for those caring for a loved one with mental illness.
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Dear Annie: My husband and I belong to different churches. He's been a member of his for 50 years, and I've been with mine for 30.
He was recently hospitalized, and someone from his church came to visit, as did my pastor. But when I spoke to my pastor, she said she did not think it was good church ethics to pray for a non-member, so she didn't pray for my husband during his illness. Yet, when someone from his church visited me when I was hospitalized, they had no problem praying for me.
I am a choir member and the church secretary, and I do whatever I can to help my community. I was disappointed to hear my pastor's words. No wonder people don't want to attend church. How do I get over this?
— Disappointed Church Member
Dear Disappointed: Talk to your pastor, and explain how upset you were that she could not bring herself to pray for your husband's health and recovery because of his church affiliation. That isn't church ethics. It's church politics. And a pastor should know the difference.
Dear Annie: I read the reply from "Another Patient," who said she had a mastectomy, but because she didn't require radiation and chemo, people didn't offer any support. I had the same problem 23 years ago.
In my case, it was malignant melanoma, a potentially deadly form of cancer. It fortunately was caught early, and after two surgeries, the doctors said I didn't need chemo or radiation. I was left with a 6-inch scar on my thigh and some bewildered feelings. Because there was no further treatment, my family decided that I wasn't sick and never had been. I received zero support, not even from my husband.
I believe they found it easier to deny my illness than to accept that I had cancer. Ignore it, it goes away. Yes, some of us want to keep it private. But please, readers, do not trivialize what has happened to us.
— Scarred but Doing Fine