When the system fails your mentally ill loved one
Addicts are famous for blaming others for their actions, but every adult is responsible for his or her choices. (Stock Photo)

I’ve been advocating for a family in an excruciating situation. Their 39-year-old son — once a successful entrepreneur with a lovely young family — is now struggling with bipolar disorder, compounded by severe meth and cocaine abuse. He just had his sixth psychotic break in under four years, followed by a stint in the ICU — some days spent in restraints, some on life support.

While he was in the ICU, his parents committed him to inpatient treatment. They were working with an attorney to secure emergency guardianship. However, five days before his commitment was set to begin, a board-certified psychiatrist aligned with the hospital persuaded the judge to release him into the community instead.

For me, sitting in that ethics hearing was like watching our health care system crumble before my eyes. The doctor emphasized the patient’s right to choose, despite documentation indicating that he was a danger to himself and others.

I asked, “What of the other pillars of medical ethics, such as do no harm? The family knows him better than you do — and he’s already said he’ll start using drugs as soon as he can. It’s unsafe.”

The doctor countered that the patient had refused treatment.

Four days later, the young man was back in emergency care, due to a panic attack brought on by a toxic combo of meth, cocaine and hallucinogenic mushrooms.

I grieve for this man’s loved ones, who have done everything possible to save him. Unfortunately, you can’t help people who don’t want help.

What you can do

Of course, you should try to reason with and advocate for your loved one — and, yes, pursue guardianship under some situations. But sometimes, it’s not enough. And in that event, here’s some things you can do.

• Recognize this not your fault. Addicts are famous for blaming others for their actions, but every adult is responsible for their choices.

• Get help for yourself. Join a support group of like-minded people who will support you and hold you accountable, so you won’t enable your loved one any longer.

• Don’t feel guilty if you must close the door on your loved one. Some addicts won’t stop using until they’ve lost everything and everyone. You aren’t abandoning them; they’re choosing drugs over you.

• Lean on the emotionally healthy people in your life who will be strong for you when you feel you can’t go on.

• Be kind to yourself. Practice self-care. Meditate. Pray. Spend time in nature. Do what feeds and calms your soul.

Sadly, you may wake up each morning wondering if your loved one will die today. However, don’t become a second victim to this tragedy. Make the choice to survive this, no matter the outcome.

• Teri Dreher is a board-certified patient advocate. A critical care nurse for 30+ years, she is founder of NShore Patient Advocates (www.NorthShoreRN.com). She is offering a free, 30-minute phone consultation by calling (312) 788-2640 to make an appointment.