Advice for helping (homeless and paranoid) mother?

Hi! I’m new to the forum. first post. I’ve been looking around the internet for advice on helping my mom who has paranoid beliefs and some psychotic episodes. She doesn’t have a diagnosis and certainly doesn’t believe she has a mental illness. Her paranoia has kept her homeless, living in her van and not eating well. I’ve been really concerned about her current situation and want to help.

In summary, she is a first gen immigrant from China. I wasn’t raised by her, so I have limited insight into what her life and personality has been like for the past twenty years but I do know she was never good with people and always had a lot of pride, never accepting any help or criticism and often getting into heated arguments with others. Most importantly, she has always been one to isolate herself from society and has not made a single friend or had regular contact with anyone for years. She wander’s constantly, driving to different parts of the country based on her own personal logic. I think it will be really hard for her to see any faults in her delusional beliefs since that’s all the company she’s had for so long. Ever since I got back in contact with her she has been trying to convince me to drop out of school and follow her along her illogical schemes with the promise that she knows she will become a god and control the world someday. She gets extremely angry and lashes out at me when I tell her anything contrary to those beliefs and says I must be being corrupted by evil. She can speak English but not comfortably and I’m sure language as well as cultural barriers will be an issue in finding appropriate care.

I’m taking some time off from graduate school and I have money saved up from work that I was hoping to use to rent her a small apartment and buy food but she always refuses based on her bizarre beliefs. Now I’m thinking that mental health treatment may have to come first before housing. Unfortunately, she is very skilled at keeping up a facade of normalcy when she believes that will benefit her. She was seeing a family doctor regularly when she lived in Chinatown NY last winter, but she doesn’t tell him the things she tells me. For example, he didn’t know about her being homeless until I told him and he didn’t want to address the psychiatric issues. She was admitted to a hospital overnight a month ago for having numbness in her hands and feet but no mental health assessment was made, and even if it was made she could probably fake her way through it. I have considered applying for guardianship but other than my word I don’t know how to show that she needs help. Since she is always moving around, sorting out legal things between different states would be difficult.

Anyway, sorry to ramble so much. The biggest issue right now is that she hasn’t been eating well due to her belief that most of the food she encounters is poisoned. To be honest, since I’m sure she’ll lie to any psychologist or psychiatrist who evaluates her my goals for her were mostly to settle her somewhere comfortable and give her money so she can shop and cook her own meals. She’s capable of basic self care, she just doesn’t have the means and won’t accept help from me. I haven’t been able to convince her to let me help her though. I’m sure that involuntarily committing her anywhere would greatly traumatize her, especially since she has no understanding of or cultural context for psychiatric care. So any advice is welcome, including suggestions for ways of talking to her, steps to take for getting someone involuntary psych care (I have no idea how to convince her to get any care short of physically forcing her into it) or sharing your experience with a family member. If you made it this far, thanks for reading a long post and thanks in advance for any comments and contributions!

As an asides, I am her only child. I have a dad and stepfamily who are supportive of me but have a very sour relationship with my mother so I’m the only one who can interact with her. Rest of the family is in China still and we haven’t talked for decades.


I weighed 80 lbs when I was first taken to the emergency room for an evaluation. I believed someone was poisoning my food.

The one thing you can do is tell the doctors that she is in danger of harming herself-which is true. What I’d do is go into the emergency room without her there and ask to speak to the resident psychiatrist. Explain to him/her that she is refusing food. Tell him what you told us. Then bring her there to be evaluated. The culture shock of the experience is worth it, because they can administer medicine by a shot.

If they find the right medication, it can be life altering. You could have your mom back and she’ll realize that she is sick. She doesn’t realize it now, because she has anosognosia. It’s like denial, but stronger. Think of it as her awareness going out like lights in a house. Nobody’s home.

Get her help quickly and she has a good chance of recovering. She might respond well to treatment. I hope this works out for you both.

Have you considered secretly recording what she says to have proof that she’s delusional? To be involuntarily forced into a psyche ward generally you have to get a cop to believe that she is a danger to herself or others. A friend of mine lied to cops to get me into a ward once and possibly saved my life. He told them I said, “I was going to kill myself and take other people with me.”, which was untrue. The cops believed him though.

Thanks so much for sharing your experience! This is something that I would like to try once I get a hold of her again. Her phone’s been off this past day and I’m worried shes driven off somewhere again. The challenge is getting her to come to the ER with me. I could perhaps say I am taking her for different reasons? Again, thanks so much for the response, it gives hope that she can become more aware with proper care.

Thanks so much for the response. I’m glad that you had a friend who was willing to take that risk for you! Also, thanks for the idea to record the conversations, I think I’ll start doing that every time we talk. I guess all the news stories about cops shooting at mentally ill people have had me worried to call them on her, but I guess her appearance is far from threatening although I think she would lash out if she feels cornered. I think I’ve been hesitant because I feel like she’s been so detached from other people for so long (2 decades at least) that making her do something forcefully would result in more distrust and trauma of the authorities and cause her to stop coming to me for anything if the treatment isn’t followed through. My friends who work locally as social workers and emergency health providers can attest that the local hospitals aren’t that great at following through (keeping suicidal patients strapped to a bed in the waiting room for four days with no privacy then releasing without care, releasing patients with HIV induced psychosis before the treatment they were involuntarily committed for can take effect…etc).

We are coming up on the growing season and I wonder if you can help your mom by having her move in with you and growing a garden, if you have a backyard. It would need to be a secured garden with a fence or a locked in place where she felt no one was coming near it. It would help her mind, and her intake of calories. What do you think of this?

Please don’t put her somehwere alone. I hope she can live with you. You may be all she has. Don’t ever do involuntary intake into pysch ward, you will destroy your relationship, and she will lose her spirit. And don’t try to trick her in any way. Just tell her your concerns, be honest and open. Tell her she can trust you.

One thing to take into account, is if she’ll trust or forgive you after she is hospitalized. If possible, it would be best to make it look like someone else was responsible for getting her hospitalized. Have you ever considered talking to a police officer about this? Perhaps if there is somewhere she drives to on a regular basis, an officer could pull her over for something to make it look like you had nothing to do with it. Obviously they would need evidence that she was a danger to herself or someone else, but that’s where the recordings come in.

There’s several online forums that you can ask questions to real life cops. This forum has a section specifically for that.

Perhaps you could get lucky and find an officer in your area that takes interest and is willing to help.

Here’s another online forum you could try, but I think it’s more career oriented so you’d probably have more luck at the first forum.

Hi Daze! Thanks for the suggestion! I see your point with growing your own food, that would definitely help with the food suspicion issue. Unfortunately my back yard is just a concrete parking lot since I live in a big city in a small apartment. I would be happy to set her up in a smaller town with a more peaceful atmosphere if she wold oblige. I don’t feel comfortable cohabitating with her though. We tried once and she ended up arguing with me all the time and was deeply suspicious of me by the end. She sees me more like a possession than a person and doesn’t understand my life or point of view so for my own well being I have to keep certain boundaries.

Thanks for the links and suggestion! That’s a great idea. Maybe after collecting some recordings I can try to find a Mandarin speaking cop to listen. I live in Chicago so there should be some. At the same time our cities most populated mental health facility is clearly Cook County Jail which has always had me wary. Looking through the forums will help me out though.

Just tell her you’re there to see a friend’s new baby in the maternity ward. You could even get the doctors in on it. Or tell her that you’re having problems and that you need to go to the hospital.

Welcome to the forum!
I`m not sure how to deal with cultural differences for your mom, but also try this site They should have a local group in your area. They can offer a lot of support for you, and may be able to help.
Good luck to you!