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.
[caption id="attachment_748" align="alignleft" width="170" caption="When to Let Go and Stop "Helping"?"][/caption]
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?
Kaye, R. (2012, March 31). Conservatorship and Mental Illness: When to Let Go?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 16 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/mentalillnessinthefamily/2012/03/conservatorship-and-mental-illness-when-to-let-go
Author: Randye Kaye
Eventually my brother was released and he stayed with my parents fro a few weeks. He again south treatment and eventually he decided he and his wife would try to work things out. We supported his decision and we all decided to partake; after all his condition was not going anywhere. After a few sessions, the medical staff advised my parents that in order to make progress in this journey my brother and his spouse would need to distant themselves. He classified the case as a severe case of control over an ill person where manipulation had played a major role in his crisis. To this day, I ask if there was anything the doctor could have done to intervene in his behalf.
Today my brother lives in a foreign country. He moved there 8 years ago after his spouse decided it was best for him to be away. Again, left us feeling powerless. These past years our access to him has been limited and most of the time dictated by her.
Two days ago, my family received a call from his spouse. She called to tell my parents "Your son went crazy again and I cant find him". My father flew in, and is there now. He located my brother and took him in to receive medical attention. He was found barefooted, and wondering the street yelling (my heart is crushed).My brother is stable again and was released to my father. Now, she is demanding to have access to him and wants my father to turned him over to her. She contacted me via phone last night and accused us of depriving her from her husband.
We are in urgent need of guidance.......
I am so sorry to hear that you are in such a difficult situation. Please visit consider the following places to call if you feel you need support:
<strong>National Suicide Prevention Lifeline</strong>. You can chat online or call: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
<strong>Crisis Call Center</strong>. Call 775-784-8090 or text "ANSWER" to 839863
<strong>Crisis Text Line</strong>. Text "GO" to 741-741
<strong>Your Life Your Voice</strong>. Help via phone (800-448-3000), text (VOICE to 20121), chat, and email.
<strong>ReachOut.com</strong>. Help via phone (1-800-448-3000)
Local Resources include:
<strong>MentalHealth.gov</strong>'s "Local Organizations with Mental Health Expertise." contains a long list of national organizations that may be in your community as well as contact information.
<strong>NAMI.org</strong> has a helpline (1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or email@example.com). Here, representatives answer questions, direct people to local services, support groups, education programs, help for family members, and more.
I hope you'll find the help you need.
In the 8 years we have been married. My husband has been in and out of hospitals countless times. from emergencies getting Librium to State Hospitals I am always the one helping him when things get rough.
Hospitals let him out to quick, Today he is being discharge from Mental College Hospitals He has 4 days of Detox
I am not able to control the system, I keep telling please care for him a few more days.
They do not listen HELP
"while Ben is doing so well and tells me he agrees that signing them is a great idea!"
yes! let's manipulate him into being your effective caretaker, when he least needs it, and let you pretend he will be having the autonomy of a 3 year old for the rest of his life, manage all of his finances, so what earnings he does make upon leaving, they'll be managed.
and, when he goes to buy alcohol at the liquor store so he can buy champagne for his new girlfriend, you can check that out by asking the bank for his most recent transactions, and tell him he needs to go to AA meetings, or you'll cut him off from his own disbursements he earned with his own money.
Because if not rewarding him autonomy and allowing him to feel the same control you feel doesn't drive him to say, "what the hell's the point of being self-sufficient and taking my meds if I may as well be the pathologized person you can never get past me seeing? Screw it— Why be self-sufficient if I can't run my own life?"
You're not a doctor. My God, if 1 in 100 people in this country had to take a neuroleptic for the remainder of their adulthood years, that would not be good. Don't condition his disbursements based on what doctor agrees with you, let him have all of his money that he earns, and if you don't give him autonomy and let him live in his own place and enjoy being a human being in control of his future, then you're begging him to reconsider what the payoff is for becoming a self-sufficient and constructive member of society.
We get it. You're not employed. Once you realize the person you hyper-pathologize isn't, and makes more than this book deal ever will, you'll get weird, and that's when you manipulate doctors like me into seeing how "troubled" he is. And all we'll do is tell your son that he should seek an attorney if he thinks someone is being stingy with disbursements, or he's unable to date and have a relationship, because you're not letting him have access to his own funds from work.
I've had a patient that got one to file a motion for revocation for $200, after her step-dad asked for "returning the favor" upon her asking for dispersements for meditation classes + to go out with her boyfriend.
and honestly, a mother controlling a grown man's estate, and a year not sufficing for evidence of his mental competency and recovery? I honestly don't see how you'd be much better. You see him as ill, but he seems fine to me. It sounds like you could either find a job or a hobby, and find a bit of recovery from matters as well.
We will check out their support group because we SURE do need one right now. I will also check out your book.
Thank you again!
How did you find other housing for your son? We are at a crisis point with our bipolar son. He's currently on his 5th hospitalization. We have decided that it isn't in the best interest of rest of our family for him to live at home. He's almost 20. Breaks our heart but he can't manage himself on so many levels. We are also looking at conservatorship. I sent my husband your quote
because it so encouraged me...
"I love my son with all my heart, yet I also know I must set personal limits for my own safety and happiness, and to focus on the rest of my family as well. Please take care of yourself too."
Thanks for any help! Such a hard system to get through.
Yes, a hard system indeed - and that's an understatement.
Each family finds its own way - but many, like ours, had to declare our loved one homeless to get housing. What we did is outlined fully in my book, emotions and all, but basically when Ben was in the hospital for the 5th time I put his stuff in storage and told the discharge committee he had no place to live anymore. Difficult, as you might imagine - and that, to, a vast understatement - but we knew it was the only way. The "system" had to put Ben into transitional living and find his a group home situation. It was the best thing for us all at the time, including Ben.
hang in there - and have you contacted your local or state NAMI yet?
oh, it is so difficult. Conservator does not have to mean full-time caregiver...that is a choice we make individually, and it is not always the best one. For eight years of my son's recovery, I remained his conservator in that I helped him with finances, was able to share in medical information, etc- but he lived in a supported living situation, with staff there 24/7 to supervise meds, etc. I felt it was better for him to not have to answer to "mommy" all the time, and I was right. For those years I was able to just be his parent, not a policeman. I stepped in when needed, but otherwise let Ben live his (structured) life.
Our current situation (he now lives at home, but this is not meant to be permanent) grew out of a premature reduction in services that resulted in a new episide of psychosis and six-week hospitalization. But - we know he has a life to live, and children are "supposed" to leave home eventually.
For spouses, it is that much more difficult. The person we marry is someone we hope will be a partner for life, not someone we feel we must treat like a child, especially before something like Atzheimer's develops.
It sounds like you are taking on too much - I highly suggest you get support. Have you been to your local NAMI support group? Does the hospital where your wife was a patient have some support for families? Try caregiver support groups - for you are juggling that extreme caregiving as well as conservatorship.
I love my son with all my heart, yet I also know I must set personal limits for my own safety and happiness, and to focus on the rest of my family as well. Please take care of yourself too.
So sorry to hear what you, and your daughter, are going through. I don't know where you live, and laws can vary from state to state, but in our case I applied for conservatorship while my son was in the hospital, via probate court in the town of the hospital. Filing papers took just one visit. Waiting for the hearing took longer...but during that time the hospital was legally required to keep Ben until the hearing. It bought me time. Only after being granted the conservatorship could I apply for right to medicate and right to involuntary commitment. We did it all in the same hearing. Those latter 2 rights expired as soon as Ben was releases, but the conservatorship remains in place with a yearly update.
Check with your state nami or legal counsel to see what your state requires.
Good luck. This is so hard, I know.
Your story is all too common, and one of the reasons we advocate for treatment so strongly. It's clear how much you care for your nephew, and how powerless you feel. With Ben, even my conservatorship doesn't give me the legal right to mandate that he must take his meds.
Yes, there is something truly in need of re-evaluation and repair in our mental health system - in LA, and just about everywhere else. Too many of our untreated (or poorly managed) loved ones wind up homeless, in jail, or - worst - so involved in their voices that they commit crimes (the only time, it seems, that the media pays attention).
There is an organization that supports assisted outpatient treatment - and for stories of success there is an enlightening you-tube video called <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yl8O6qh-F-o&feature=plcp" rel="nofollow">Making A Difference.</a>
One of the reasons I write about our struggles so honestly in "Ben Behind His Voices" is to show how difficult the current system makes it for family members who genuinely want to help. Yes, our family is (thankfully) in a place of not only hope but promise now (fingers crossed...) - but in the book readers will see I have tried things like bribery, begging, threats, and reason to "convince" my son to take his meds...but what really worked was structure, requirements, supervision - all fueled by<em> understanding his illness better</em>, as well as our love.
Places like <strong>Healthy Place</strong> and <strong>NAMI</strong> help family members by providing information and support.
But yes, it is so difficult to sit back and watch our loved ones suffer and decline. God Bless you, too - and your nephew.
always in hope,
I know how difficult it can be. Have you looked to NAMI for any resources and support? There are also some excellent resources here at Healthy Place that can offer practical info. Sometime living at home is not ideal - for many years my son was in a residential home, but only because I "made him homeless" -- so painful but it ended up being the best thing at the time. His growth would not have happened, I am convinces, had Ben remained in our home during those years.
Call your local NAMI affiliate, and take a look at books like "Defying Mental Illness" and "When you love someone with a mental Illness" for practical ideas.
and hang in there. You are not alone.
As NAMI reminds us, "You can't know what no one has told you." You have grief enough; no need to add guilt to it. But if we all advocate for the earlier detection, better research, more available services and stomping out the stigma that prevents treatment all too often - countless lives can be helped, even saved.
In their minds, running through the streets, being a confirmed schizophrenic, ingesting drugs and alcohol, sleeping on a park bench without a change of clothes in a neighborhood which is one of the most dangerous in New Haven-its not enough.
The family worked all angles to get the police to pick him up and bring him into Yale for an evaluation, only to be told that he is not yet reached the point of seeming "crazy" enough.
This was their medical opinion without any baseline of medical analysis or examination based on a criteria that would support their argument.
So, it's horrible and the institutions have a major problem when the ill person is Black and poor.
If letting go means that we just leave our brother or son on the streets, then letting go is never an option. This burden should not only fall on the family, but the state that receives federal funds to address mental health issues also has an obligation to do their part to ensure that those in need get the help they deserve.
I have been told that there are programs in place in communities where treatment is mandated - and the community saves $1.81 for every dollar spent" Here is a link to one such story:
<a href="http://www.nbcbayarea.com/video/#!/news/local/What-Could-Lauras-Law-Have-Done-/135635838" rel="nofollow">Laura's Law story</a>
if the link reverts to another, newer story, just put this in the searchbar : <strong>laura-s-law</strong>
and scroll down to find the correct story.
"Some of the most hard-to-reach mentally ill only get treatment after doing damage to themselves or others. What if there were a way to force them into treatment before then? There is, except hardly anyone is using it."
something more to fight for. yes, indeed, the family has a lot to do...
Thanks for sharing your experiences. Personally, I haven't gotten to the point where my relative is doing well enough to be without the guardian/conservatorship. Of course, he would like to be, but he'd have to petition the court. If your son is well enough to do that and be successful, then perhaps a psychiatric power of attorney would be the way to go. If I understand it correctly, it would only be applicable in a psychiatric emergency. Unfortunately, I haven't come across anyone in my professional career either (I'm a social worker) who has drawn one up.