Because of the nature of the work I do, I have come across countless people whose loved ones are struggling with mental illness - and there is nothing their families can do for them.
It is a broken system - even moreso than the rest of the healthcare system because the families are not included in support, treatment, or decision-making once their loved one is legally adult.
I have written here before about my struggles with depression and anxiety. And now I find myself on the other side of this coin.
When I get upset, I hide out. I don't e-mail or call friends or ask them to make plans, because I don't want to be a burden. That's essentially what I've been doing the last few weeks because some major family shit is going down.
In a nutshell, my grandmother, who has struggled with untreated depression (read: depression she won't treat) is now having some kind of psychosis. Because my grandfather won't admit that there is a problem, he won't get her to any kind of treatment or evaluation. We are not sure, miles and miles away, if it is dementia, psychosis, or a combination thereof.
My dad gets disturbing phone messages. This normally sweet, formal lady has run around the neighborhood with paranoid delusions and threatened my grandfather and threatened to harm herself.
But because of super strict state laws, we can't hospitalize her. Why? Even though she has made threats, there is no specific "plan." Or if there is, she won't tell staff at the one hospital she has been taken to.
One of my coworkers told me it sounded like Monty Python. Doesn't it?
It is terribly upsetting to my dad, to whom I am hardwired. I have been distracted and anxious and unable to wrap my mind around accepting that the other shoe will eventually drop.
Are we control freaks? It is so frustrating to be unable to help, to sit by and be unable to intervene as my grandparents' lives slowly go to pieces.
I am sad and I am angry - angry because my grandfather is so worried about what people think that he is neglecting my grandmother's care. Angry because my grandmother also seems to be able to turn this behavior on and off. The one time she was taken to a hospital by law enforcement she started acting normal and they let her go home.
I feel powerless, depressed, and pissed off all at the same time. Although my grandparents have never been terribly interested in their grandchildren, I do have some nice memories and it is horrifying to imagine what is happening now.
My dad has been too upset to even talk about it. So it hit me the other day - so many families that come to us at work must be on their very last nerve, having avoided the issue for quite a long time. Although my impulse is always to try to get help for something and fix it right away, the stigma of mental illness in my grandparents' generation is very, very real.
And even with all of the resources of my professional life, we are unable to help my grandparents because of that stigma.
So, please - we are all affected by this issue. Talk about it. That's the only way to change things.