Hey Sami-Jo, here’s a question for your advice column. How do you help a family member who is becoming increasingly paranoid and anxious and clearly needs help, but refuses to believe they have a problem and need help? This person has stressed out his wife of many decades to the point where she’s ready to divorce him (although she has said that before). I suspect the answer is “you can’t help someone who doesn’t want help”, but I promised I’d try to help them figure it out. Based on the results of my googling, there may not be a solution, but if you want to tackle this one, go ahead. And thanks for listening, oh wise advice columnist.
Slice of Advice:
Helping anyone through a mental health crisis is difficult. Helping family is worse. Things tend to degrade into personal jabs and lashing out in ways meant to hurt the other because they have personal information to chuck at them. Having someone else without any stakes in the situation is always better, but difficult to get involved when the person in crisis won’t admit they need help.
Since the person in this case is a senior, it can be difficult to separate age and mental health related symptoms. You said the man has been stressing out his wife, but not for how long, my concern is this may be Dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease in which case I would recommend the wife and/or other supports look into those resources to see if they have a way to become involved in a natural way to lessen the paranoia or feelings of collusion. A doctor or relevant medical professional can also do this.
If there’s been a change in medications, even ones for blood pressure or ones unrelated to any mental health specific, they could cause these issues as well. I also wonder if they get regular physicals where a doctor may be able to track any changes.
The previous threat to leave was not followed through with, so the husband may not believe them and categorizes it as empty threats. You’re right, you can’t help those who refuse help. Though, the issue here isn’t just the husband suffering mental health symptoms, but the wife who is suffering because of them as well.
They can try and broach the subject with the husband about getting help, with the addition of any added information they may get from a medical professions or resource like the Alzheimer’s Society or Schizophrenia resources if those are the symptoms they’re experiencing, but not to do so until they’re ready to take action with their own welfare.
If the paranoia and anxiousness is to the point they’re experience abuse because of it, then it would benefit for them to be able to stay with family or friends, but they would need to figure this out before broaching the conversation since it could result in further abuse or no change from the husband. Moving out doesn’t need to lead to a divorce but putting their safety and well-being first is sometimes a step towards a better outcome. Personal boundaries are important, and they can still be a source of support for their husband outside of the house.
If the wife doesn’t want to leave, this is also understandable. ‘For better or for worse’ is a vow many people will take to their graves. In this case, I would recommend they look into resources for themselves. One-on-one counselling with an abuse counsellor, support groups for family experiencing the same mental health symptoms as their loved one, or even crisis services through an over the phone organization to get her through the moment of crisis and help give perspective and clarity.
No matter if her husband wants to seek help she needs to help herself. The whole giving yourself oxygen first on a plummeting plane is the easiest analogy here. She needs help as much as he does, and she needs it first before she can help him.
I don’t know the city to look up resources, free or otherwise, but you can help her by doing a simple Google search, making a few calls, and/or attending preliminary appointments or support groups with her depending on how much you want to get involved.
I hope they work out a way to help their husband that includes helping themselves.