Relationship Connection: My son is homeless and mentally ill

Question

I have a son who has been addicted to drugs for many years. He is now 37 and started huffing gas when he was 10. He has been through several rehab programs, but goes right back to doing drugs when he is released.

He used to be a bright young man, but now he is mentally impaired. Long ago he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and I think he has multiple personalities. He often talks in third person and can name the person talking. He will not take his meds unless he is in a supervised facility.

He has been in jail many times, and prison one time. Presently, he is living on the streets. My heart aches for him.

His disability check is deposited into my account, so he calls me often to send him money. I don’t know if he would make any effort to be in touch with me if it wasn’t to get money.

His father and I have been divorced for 30 years and his father is now deceased. My other children will not have anything to do with my son, and advise me against seeing or helping him for fear of my safety. There isn’t anyone in in my son’s corner. He is so pitiful – I can’t turn my back on him. I still love him. At times I see a brief glance of the sweet young man he used to be.

I have taken him to a counseling agency several times to get help, but he will not keep his follow up appointments. I don’t want to enable him by sending money, but it breaks my heart to see him in such dire circumstances. I don’t know what to do.

I am 70 years old, single, and live by myself. I am still working, but plan to retire the first of the year. It takes a little effort for me to see him. He usually ends up angry and verbally abusive when I suggest ways to improve his situation.

What is the best thing I can do to help him? I see him about once a week, and send a little money ($30) at a time occasionally. What is expected of me? I want to do the right thing. Can you advise me please?

Answer

I believe that you are expected to make sure first and foremost that your physical and emotional safety is protected. I realize he’s your son, but if he’s unstable and prone to being abusive, you need to make sure you aren’t putting yourself in situations where he can harm you. I agree with your children that you need to be very careful.

If your son is critical of the way you handle the money, recognize that you don’t have to be his primary financial fiduciary. I recommend you speak with an attorney to explore the possibility of transferring that responsibility to someone else who can oversee your son’s financial needs.

If your son is seriously mentally ill, there are often resources available to him to help with life management through counseling and case management. I recommend you check in with your local National Alliance on Mental Illness chapter (www.nami.org) to see what resources they have for you and your son. Sometimes the best way to help him is to let others hold him accountable and support him in his illness.

Family members of those with addictions and serious mental illnesses often burn out because they blame themselves and believe there is more they can do, even when they’ve exhausted all of their resources. You might even consider counseling or support groups to help you develop the healthy responses you’ll need to be in a relationship with him.

I can’t even imagine how this situation must pull on your heartstrings. No parent ever imagines himself or herself in this nightmare situation. That’s why it’s critical for you to get educated and get support from others who have walked this road. Isolation will only cause you to feel more afraid and powerless.

If you are able to connect him with services that provide case management and support for him, you can coordinate with these professionals in behalf of your son. Of course, your son will have to agree to your involvement. If he doesn’t want you involved in his life, then all you can do is respect his choice and grieve the loss of this relationship.

Turn to your other children and let them support you in this difficult situation. You are not alone. They feel many of the same feelings you feel. Don’t be afraid to protect yourself so you aren’t constantly tortured by his choices and abusive behavior. We can’t know if he’ll ever change his behavior, but you can know that you’ll be safe and have more peace in your life.

Stay connected!

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Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: geoff@lovingmarriage.com

Twitter: @geoffsteurer

Facebook: facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

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4 Comments

  • fun bag May 13, 2015 at 3:37 pm

    this is a problem we see all over the country, and more often than not these mentally ill get locked away in prisons at taxpayer expense. Back in the old days there were the state run mental facilities, and although those could be awful in their own right they were probably a much better option than locking away mental patients in prisons after they were left untreated and then convicted for criminal behavior. I heard somewhere that keeping an inmate locked in utah state prison costs around $30,000 a year. Can’t confirm it though.

    In a particular case like above often the patient will refuse treatment of any kind, and it’s just a waiting game of them either being killed or locked in the prison system. No good option exist in the current system…

  • Bender May 13, 2015 at 8:13 pm

    Tough situation. There, but for the grace of God (or luck), go I. Hoping that the pendulum that swung too far away from forced treatment swings back a little.

  • beentheredonethat May 13, 2015 at 10:50 pm

    Jail would be the best option. Buying illicit drugs with disabilaty monies is a crime. He should lose that handout and do time for any crime he commits.

    • Bender May 14, 2015 at 11:03 am

      Right, because nothing solves mental illness better than being locked up with criminals.

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