Dear Dr. Archer,
For years my mother has had in and out "episodes." They normally span out over the course of a few weeks, and then she's back to her old self. She recently, however, fell into one and it's not only lasting longer than ever, but her actions are much worse this time. Her mother also had these episodes, refused to seek help and never received a diagnosis.
When she falls into these episodes, she imagines things have happened that actually have not, and she over exaggerates things that have. She begins to act as those family members lost in the past had acted in their stages of illness. For example, she wears multiple layers of clothing, dressing like my great-great-grandmother, failing to recall conversations or actions from only a few minutes prior and not being able to remember the reasoning for doing certain things.
Furthermore, she's always been very particular about things in her home. The carpet, furniture, decorations, everything. The door was always to be closed and locked from the inside, which could only be opened with a key. About a week and a half ago, she removed all the rugs from the house and placed them outside on the patio where she soaked them with the hose. She began leaving the front door open all day and well into the night.
Things were brought out from closets and strayed about the house. She has begun leaving her home without being properly dressed and beginning to blame other people in the family for things that have been lost, suggesting everyone else has a problem and needs help.
I ran away when I was 17 to get away from these things and did not return to live in her home. My younger sister ran away for the same reason when she was 16. Just this past week my younger sister who is 14 told my mother and myself that she didn't want to live there anymore, and one way or another she had to get out of there because she could no longer take it.
We offered her a place to stay if she needed, for as long as she needed. A family member has gone to pick her up to stay with them until it could be arranged for her to come to us. It's still unclear whether or not she'll be able to come.
When approached about the situation, my mother denies she has any problem, but it's clear to everyone else that she does. Her husband and I have been talking about how to get her help, but we don't know what to do or how to go about it. If you could provide some advice or insight on this situation, I would greatly appreciate it, and I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you so much for your time.
My advice is to get your mom checked over by her family doctor. If she agrees, give her doctor a heads up as to your mother's behavior and how it's affecting the family. You want the doctor to have an idea of what's going on in her day to day life, because no one knows what she's going to say once she's in the exam room.
In the US, if one does not wish to get professional mental help, it is their right not to, unless they become a serious danger to themselves or others. It sounds like your mother is approaching the line where you could file for a commitment, but you typically need some concrete example of how her condition is putting her in danger.
In the meantime, you and your family can check out NAMI's listings of support groups for family members whose lives have been affected by mental illness. A local chapter could be helpful to you. Reading others' personal experiences can be a valuable resource for your own situation. Good luck.