My Brother is Insane and I’m Scared for My Mum

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Reader’s Question

I am the 55-year-old twin sister of my brother, who still lives with mum.

When we were about 17 years old he began drinking, and not a week has gone by since then that he hasn’t terrorised mum, dad and me. He has insane ramblings, his abuse is awful and he causes real terror. My parents would often drive to the supermarket parking lot or bushland and sleep in the car just to get away from him. The police were often called, and they would haul him away for the night. But that didn’t work because when the police let him out in the morning he would be back to the house, even more aggressive and violent. Often he ripped off the door to get in. (Funny thing is that when the police came, he would be meek and mild in front of them.) There’s loads more I could tell, but it would take forever. He’s had girlfriends over the years, but they soon left.

This went on until we were 47, when my father died. (I had left and married years before.) He has since taken over completely, though he doesn’t drink so much now. Nonetheless, he is still aggressive and violent — to me and to mum as well. He will not leave, and he won’t help her around the house at all. She has to do everything for him, or I must go over to do it.

If mum ever left, he would follow her wherever she went; he would find her. It’s so strange — he seems to hate her (and me), yet if he goes away for a few days, he has to call mum several times each day! He cannot make a decision without mum — it’s always “Mum, mum, help me”. And she dare not refuse.

The most recent outburst was just a couple of days ago, when I was trying to clean up piles of his junk to take to the tip. He did nothing to help, but when I suggested taking eight old batteries to the tip, he went off his head completely, screaming and throwing things (as usual). You cannot reason with him; you cannot talk to him; he goes insane. And mum has tried for all those years, but to no avail. Now she’s very frail, and I’m so worried about her.

Yes, there’s been all the help from AA and mental health counselling, and he’s been on an antidepressant for years, but nothing seems to work. He doesn’t work, but is obsessed with repairing cars, and talks about nothing else. He hates everyone, believes they are all idiots.

I have a real problem as mum gets older — she’s 80 this year. She now weighs 6 stone — less than 40 kg — and is not in good health. With all this worry and misery still going on, I’m scared for her.

Psychologist’s Reply

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The mental illness of one person is so often a tragedy for his family. I understand that your brother has received mental health treatment, but has not been found to meet criteria for conservatorship (the legal/medical process by which an adult is made a dependent and is provided for within the system of care). Assuming all has been done for your brother that can be done, we should focus on the welfare of your mother.

How can you best protect and provide for her? I’m sure she is comfortable in her home and it would be very disruptive for her to leave. However, if you cannot separate them any other way, then consider finding another place for her to live. Somewhere your brother cannot follow. If that means having her live with you or at a senior living center near you, then you can protect her quality of life for her remaining years. Once you’ve protected her, then you can worry about the details of his residence in her home.

It is not fair that she should have to move out of her home in her twilight years. Moving is hard enough for someone who is young and fit. At her age, it can be very hard indeed. Unfortunately, mental illness isn’t fair and, since he won’t leave her, then she must take action with your help. I encourage you to talk with her directly about this and include any other family members you can. It’s important that she continue to feel a sense of control over her own life. To that end, you can present her with the options and let her choose where to go and what to do. However, remaining where she is scares you, and with apparently good reason. I’m sure you’ll be able to persuade her not to stay.

After they have separated, then you might expect an episode of acting-out from your brother. If he has a treating mental health professional, advise him or her of the intended move. That way, the professional can be prepared to safeguard your brother and family. This may even create an opportunity to further his treatment.

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