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Conservatorship and Mental Illness: When to Let Go?

Nine years ago, I was appointed conservator of estate and person for my son Ben. I remember the court hearing well. Ben was in the middle of his first hospitalization for schizophrenia, refusing medication and wanted to be released.  The only way to keep him in the hospital, if he did not agree to stay voluntarily (and that certainly wasn’t happening), was to apply for conservatorship.  The hospital would then be legally required to keep Ben there – at least until the court date.

I remember the day well. Expert after expert, delivering the verdict: “Gravely disabled.” The words stung each time they were uttered, yet I knew it was true.

friends in field
When to Let Go and Stop "Helping"?

Ben tried gamely to defend himself, rallying his energies for a speech that was quite impressive for someone whose inner world was vying for his attention. Still, I got what I needed: the right to make decisions for Ben, to keep him in the hospital, to require that he take medication. The last two rights disappeared as soon as he was released, of course, but conservator status remained in place.

Each year since then, I have had to reapply for this status – and it has always been granted. This year, though, may bring change. I just got a call from a lawyer who has been assigned to get Ben’s take on this – and now he is questioning whether he wants me to continue in this role.

I am scared.

What to do? Well, we’re re-educating ourselves as to exactly what rights I have in this role, and whether Ben can truly function well without my supervision.  At the present time, things look great. Ben is taking his meds, is doing extremely well at the moment: part-time college, part-time work, and clean/sober years racking up.  But – just eight months ago he was wandering the halls of the psychiatric unit, once again “gravely disabled.”  Had I not waved those conservatorship papers in front of the hospital staff, I would not have been invited to participate in Ben’s recovery plan – and then where would we – would he – be?

For relatives of those diagnosed with mental illness, this issue of legal rights is very complex.  When Ben is doing so well, he doesn’t really need me. But – should crisis hit again – what then? Can I get him to sign a basic release of information form now, maybe a power of attorney for times of hospitalization, instead? Will that guarantee me my rights to be on his treatment team? Will he sign these now, while he is reasonable and balanced, in the hopes that I will never have to use them?

What have you done? Have you faced this decision in the past? How have you made sure of your rights to make decisions for your loved one, be allowed to access medical information when necessary, without conservator papers?

Open communication and teamwork between those diagnosed, their families/caregivers and healthcare provider is essential for better recovery. So – why does it become so hard to be on the team?

34 thoughts on “Conservatorship and Mental Illness: When to Let Go?”

  1. I have a 26yr old son. He is mentally delayed, & schizophrentic. I do have conservatorship & POA. He is living in a group home, however he is angered quickly which is one of the reasons i put him in the group home His dad recently passed in an accident also, and he breaks things, punces holes in the walls etc..at my house. The group home tries to take him out & do things with him as well but he is starting not to want to do anything and hv outburst with them. Is there anything i can do if the group home makes him leave. I cant have him back home due to he scares me and my other son. We are in TN. Thank you.

  2. My daughter is 38 years old, learning disabled and schizophrenic. She is currently hospitalized for the third time in 9 months. I cannot let her come back home again after this. My health is suffering and she refuses to go to a board and care home. I’m hoping that they will have to place her when released if I don’t allow her back at my house because I cannot handle her anymore.

  3. Can someone call me. My sister is schizophrenic and needs help. I don’t know what to do. She’s homeless and very ill. 619 908 0962

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