Family and Caregiver Schizophrenia Discussion Forum

Our isolated, depressed, undiagnosed 23-year-old son

(Sorry, this may be posted twice. I don’t know how to format this, nor how to delete my previous post. Confusing.)

 Our 23-year-old son has reached the point where we feel the need to reach out for help, for him and for ourselves.  It’s a long story, and I’m struggling to write this, but I’ll try to summarize:

 He was born with a significant birth defect, spent his first 7 months in the hospital, 2 ½ years eating through a tube, and later had to deal with eating problems, delayed growth, small stature, scoliosis, and more.  We’re sure this all affected him greatly.  

 But despite it all, through his childhood he was an amazing kid in many ways.  He was mostly energetic, aware, outgoing, curious, creative, and caring.  He was popular at school, interacted with people, and had many enjoyments, interests, and plans.  He became an excellent rock climber.  Still, it often seemed he was struggling with things he didn’t share with us much.

 At 16 is when things really changed.  We think (he won’t say) his only girlfriend ended whatever they had together, and from that point on he lost most of his spark for life.  He quit high school and climbing, gradually lost all his interests and friends, became angrier, depressed, and increasingly paranoid, and has been going that direction ever since.  We don’t think he’s ever been into hard drugs, but we do think his frequent use of cannabis may generally be amplifying whatever problems he’s having.   

 After living his whole life with us in a small house we built, he lived in an old bus right next to us for the past few years, and then, with our help, moved into a nearby apartment a few months ago.  His isolation, fear, and depression have worsened for years, until now he won’t speak more than a few words to anyone and avoids people as much as possible.  Over the years he’s also developed the idea that we, his parents, are mostly responsible for his problems (we know we bear some responsibility because our relationship had problems), so he mistrusts us and minimizes interaction.  If we press him on anything, or even just talk with him, he either becomes rageful or almost literally runs away.  Lately he won’t say more than a few words, and if we visit his apartment he won’t open the door.  We don’t try to force anything, and we try to be as patient, understanding, and caring as possible.  He still comes by our place most days, usually briefly, but seems to want nothing to do with us.  Since his parents are now all he has and this place is all he’s ever known, he may be finding whatever comfort he can by coming here.

 We are heart-broken.  For years we’ve done everything we can think of to help him.  He’s always refused to consider counseling (or medication), so he’s never been diagnosed with any mental and/or emotional disorder.  Our educated guess is that he may have schizophrenia, but we may never know.  We both suffer anxiety, depression, and overwhelming sadness because he seems to be suffering so much, and may eventually feel the need to end his life.  We’re also worried that we ourselves couldn’t endure that.

 I know this is long.  Does anyone have suggestions?  We’ve thought of trying to have him taken in for psychological evaluation, but that involves the police entering his apartment.  We’re worried that in his mental/emotional state he may pick up one of the knives he has and commit suicide-by-cop.  Are there alternatives?  Is there help?

@lynnjacobs Hello! I had to print out your story as it was difficult to read with the format. My son had his break at 16 (he’s 21 now), but it was very evident and severe in nature. We were hoping to chalk it up to drug use, but no, he was diagnosed with schizoaffective, bipolar type. He was hospitalized 13 times w/ in 3 years before an effective medication was implemented and it truly saved his life. He attended a lock-down school in Texas (we’re Californian’s, so that was heart wrenching to say the least) and walked out with his high school diploma - awesome! It’s evident that my son is much more severe than your son from your story. Mistrust, anger, paranoia/suspicious behavior and loss of interest with friends are all common symptom of this illness as you know. My son was and is a heavy cannabis user and I do believe that it initiated his onset of his illness, but he tells me he goes from 100 to 0 with his anxiety when he smokes. I have lost that battle and unfortunately, there are bigger battles in my books. They can’t handle any stress and once educated, I rarely raise my voice and avoid arguments at all cost because they escalate quickly and they feed off of your energy. I don’t force anything and I’m glad that you are already practicing that. Every loved one on this forum becomes the ‘bad guy’ due to paranoia/psychosis/delusions and we are all fall victim of ugly attacks - it is the nature of this illness. I’m happy he still comes to your place to find comfort - that’s a definite blessing! The best thing that you can do is find your local NAMI Chapter and enroll in a Family to Family class asap. That class has helped most on this forum - I took it twice and I just moved counties, so I’m on the books for my 3rd class. More than 50% of those living with schizophrenia have what’s called anosognosia, which is an actual symptom of the diagnose and prevents individuals from knowing that they have a mental illness - lack of insight. Many on this form use Dr. Amador’s LEAP method for our loved ones with lack of insight, see The LEAP Method - NAMI Pierce County for more information. We all understand the heart break completely, I was barely functioning before I dug in and educated myself and became strong - NAMI helped me with this. Also, call your local MET/PET, mental evaluation team for suggestions - they can possible come out and help you (call your sheriff station and ask for the MET Team’s phone number). I would never suggest calling 911/police unless there is violence going on because, I hate to get real, but 1 in 4 that is killed by the police are mentally ill and quite often, they escalate the situation - they’re not trained enough, period. I’m sorry that I don’t have better advise, but early intervention is key and in our case, medication was crucial. Can you bribe him to go to the doctors with money? I use that one a lot. I’m surprised that he has never had an official ‘break’ and ended up in the hospital which can sometimes help, at least with a diagnosis. I’m not sure where you live, but some states are better than others with services. I would also try and have him sign a psychiatric advanced directive because that will give you rights under HIPAA to act as his ‘agent’ in case he becomes too impaired to make decisions - we all have this document on hand. I’m so sorry that you’re here and I don’t have great answers as unfortunately, there aren’t many, but we’ve all been through the ringer and are here to help! I’ve given you a few tools for help: NAMI Family to Family, Dr. Amador’s LEAP Method, advance/psychiatric advanced directive and your local MET/PET team. I hope others can jump on with some suggestions and wish you the best! Xo :purple_heart:


Also, there aren’t any potential weapons in my house, a butter knife is good enough!

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I know I’m new, but thus website sure seems confusing. If there’s a way to reformat my post into readable paragraphs, I can’t find it. Thanks for taking the time to print it out and respond.

Reading your son’s story, it’s hard to imagine what you’ve gone through, and even harder to imagine what he’s gone through. I’m glad he got diagnosed and has gotten help of various kinds. And that you’ve learned how to live with the challenges of it all. Yes, like you I’ve learned to not confront or argue with him about anything. Even the mildest suggestion or offer of help seems to be misconstrued as an attempt to control him in some way. I’m even afraid to tell him I love him anymore, as he seems to take that as having a nefarious motive of some kind. We’re constantly walking on eggshells, as I’m sure you know. If he could just get diagnosed and talk to someone about what’s going on in his head, and maybe get appropriate medication, maybe things could start getting better, but that seems pretty far off at this point.

Thanks for the suggestions. We attended a couple of NAMI meetings a while back, but we honestly didn’t think they were helpful for our situation.

I guess, as you say, a feature of some mental illnesses is that those with it are literally incapable of understanding that they have it. My first wife was anorexic, but no amount of logic or evidence could convince her of that. In recent years she’s absolutely certain she’s infested with microscopic parasites – delusional parasitosis. I tried many times to gently and carefully explain to my son that his way of thinking sometimes wasn’t lining up with reality, but it never got through, so I gave that up about a year ago. I’ll look into the LEAP method, and MET/PET. Thanks.

My experience with the police, is that, yes, they are counterproductive in most cases, and they can be lethal when dealing with paranoid individuals. I think of trying to get an MHA for our son, but because cops are required to enter his apartment and take him away, that would be a last resort. Also, if we did that, maybe our son would lose all trust in us and never want to see us again, which could be devastating to him because we’re the only people he has left, such as it is.

I like your other suggestions, but at this point I don’t think he could be bribed to do or sign anything, unfortunately. Generally, the more help I offer, the more suspicious and oppositional he becomes.

We sure do appreciate you taking the time to help total strangers.


We had the same problem communicating help to our son. Dr Amador’s LEAP communication method, mentioned by @skyler.hayden , did make it able for us to figure out how to help our son. Dr Amador’s book, “I’m Not Sick, I Don’t Need Help” is a good place to start. I found several free Amador lectures online that helped me a good deal.

The NAMI support groups can vary depending upon who is attending. NAMI’s Family to Family course will help you and may be available online or in person in your area.

The search tool near the upper right will help you find the subjects you would like to learn about. You could start by entering Dr Amador - there are threads that link to some of his lectures.

Your story is a familiar one here, a beloved child that changes and needs help. Many of us had no idea how to proceed until we reached out to other people working on the same situation. I hope the forum becomes easier for you to navigate. Welcome!

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He might, but if he gets medicated, that will hopefully clear up as it did with my son. I do believe medication is so important and life changing! Best to you! Xo

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Thanks so much for your help. I just ordered “I’m Not Sick” and it should be here in a week or so, which can’t be soon enough. At this point with our son, it’s hard to imagine anything that could penetrate the thick, hostile, oppositional shell he has built around himself. Any attempt on our part to communicate with him just goes nowhere. He either mumbles a word or two and then immediately almost literally runs off, or won’t say anything and runs off. He won’t answer phone calls, texts, emails, letters, or anything else anymore. We just keep trying to give him space without cutting off ties completely. It’s precarious and painful. Maybe the book will have some advice on how to get a foot in his door.

Our experience with the NAMI meetings with family members dealing with mentally ill family members was that nearly all of the the family members at the meetings seemed as mentally ill as the family members they were supposedly there to deal with. By far most of the time was spent addressing the attendees’ complaints and problems, rather than finding out how to better deal with mentally ill family members. I guess maybe the groups vary a lot.

Thanks again.

Yes, if he ever gets a definitive diagnosis, then the appropriate medication could be of great benefit. But at this point I don’t think we could legally have him taken in for an MHA, even if we decided to.

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This really does describe where we were with our son. We didn’t know anything about schizophrenia, much less the symptom anosognosia. Our efforts to explain rationally to our son what was going on, just made him draw further away from us. He became very distrustful of us and didn’t want to speak to either of us.

Someone told us that one of the problems with trying to argue or persuade them out of delusions, is that we can become part of a delusion in that they become suspicious of us. Same thing with trying to tell them they are sick when the illness is preventing them from understanding.

I am the main communicator with my son and we needed him to be diagnosed. I used the LEAP technique right away and reached out to my son with “agree to disagree” on what I had said in the past. This did make him more comfortable with me. After that I always used LEAP when I spoke with him. It took 8 months before I was able to make him an offer about seeing a psychiatrist for one year in exchange for something he wanted. Many years later, we all still use LEAP when talking to our family member, compassion and respect are important.

The tricky thing we learned is that most psychiatrists don’t deal with severe mental illness. Your NAMI support group might be able to help you in that regard.

One of the things they teach you at Family to Family is that its not unusual for brain disorders to run in families. Often you will run into caregivers with what appear to be light symptoms of brain disorders themselves. Also, sometimes listening to long time caregivers talk, well, the things we have experienced can sound a little unusual. Many people have mentioned that if they talk about their experiences around people who don’t deal with such issues, they will notice the people starting to look at them as though they have an issue.

Back in our beginning, a longtime caregiver told me “welcome to our world”. My response was “I’ve been here quite a while, I just didn’t know it”.

The best source for information on schizophrenia is Dr E Fuller Torrey. His book "Surviving Schizophrenia A Family Manual is a must read.

You are very welcome and welcome to our world.

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Thanks for sharing that with us. Your son’s condition does sound similar to our son’s. I await the arrival of “I’m not sick” so we can learn the LEAP technique and try to start using it.

Real communication with him seems almost impossible right now, and it’s gotten rapidly worse in the past few weeks. He calls us “delusional,” and I guess that’s just projection on his part.

I appreciate your thoughts on the NAMI meetings. Maybe they do vary a lot, and maybe we got a particularly mentally ill group. They honestly seemed to have so many mental/emotional problems of their own that there wasn’t much time for discussing relationships with mentally ill family members.

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