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Question:

My sister has been at home for more than 10 years since leaving college without completing a degree. She has become increasingly withdrawn since she returned home. She currently does not leave the house and only speaks to and sees my mother, although my parents live in the same house. She communicates with my father and me only through notes, and stays in her room whenever anyone is at the house besides my mother.

I have not been able to see her for three years (during my visits several times yearly), although we had had a good relationship. She was treated in the involuntary ward of a psychiatric hospital for a few weeks 9 years ago. In consultation with several psychiatrists, my father had her admitted. My mother was strongly opposed to the hospitalization and verbally abused my father when she arrived home and discovered that my sister had been admitted.

My sister took several medications during her hospitalization. After returning home, she continued to take Zyprexa for 1-2 months and met regularly with her psychiatrist for a year. My mom has always been in denial of the situation, and agreed with my sister that continuing with psychiatric care was unnecessary at that time. My mother still vacillates on whether my sister is in fact ill. My father avoids acting on the situation out of fear of my mother, who blames him for his prior actions.

I care deeply about the situation but am geographically far from the family. I want to give them some sort of support and help them to plan for the future, but they are frequently disputing and I don’t know where to start. The situation has turned into a major family issue, and my parents’ relationship has been seriously tested because of it. I am planning on joining a local NAMI chapter, but otherwise, I am stuck. How can I start the process of getting help for my sister and parents?

Answered by: Alice Medalia

Your plan to join a local NAMI chapter sounds excellent, since that will not only give you support, but provide you with information which you in turn can share with your family. One way to achieve your goal of being supportive and helping them plan for the future is by regularly staying in touch, listening, providing access to information and conveying your caring in a supportive manner. When you are next in town, you can also consider consulting a mental health professional together with your parents, so that you can gain clarity about how as a sibling, you can be most helpful.