How to help a friend
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How to help a friend? (Larry)

Dear Dr. Phelps, The sweetest lady I have ever known, now 38, was hospitalized & diagnosed as manic after an acute episode when she was 18. After the birth of her first child in her early 20's, she stopped taking her lithium. She blamed the child's cleft palate on the lithium. That was 14 years ago. Her catholic marriage ended in divorce 3 years ago when her husband left her for another woman. She is an RN and has convinced herself that she can control herself without medication. After many episodes of extreme honesty, talkativeness, and other 'behaviors', I began to suspect that she actually couldn't control it. Now, after a 2 year-old attempt to marry her, she dumped me. From this limited amount of information, what do you think her general prognosis is, and what could I do to help her?

Dear Larry --
Sorry to say you are in a position that many, many people have shared: when someone you love has a mental illness but doesn't recognize it, or how much help they need, or how much the illness is interfering with their -- and thus, your -- life.  Our nation's laws have leaned far in the direction of protecting individual's rights, perhaps with good reason.  But one of the results is that people like your sweet friend are left on their own by the law.  As you may have learned, we cannot intervene in someone's life if they are not dangerous to themselves or others ( -- demonstrating that, and thereby trying to make something happen for her, can be very difficult, without waiting for something tragic to happen.  That's the terrible position many families have shared with you.).

What can you do?  Find others who care about her and make sure your willingness to help is well known.  Then, find your local National Alliance for the Mentally Ill ( ) and at least help fund their efforts, if you don't join outright: this is the strongest group in the country working on trying to solve the problem you describe.  Come to a chat group on this website ( )  or similar ones and ask your question again: many times others' who have faced this circumstance have better advice than I, having "been there".

Dr. Phelps

Published October, 2000

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