Family and Caregiver Schizophrenia Discussion Forum

When does support become enabling

My 36 year old son lives with me as he has schizophrenia. He does not work. He seems to live in a constant state of fear, anger and hatred and often includes me into these feelings. He is an amazing guitar player and writes great songs. Many of his songs are very dark because he is writing about his own experiences. He had recorded many songs and was wanting to put them out to You Tube when things went very bad again. For 5 months he just got worse and worse. Apparently, medicaid decided that they would not pay for the med that had been working well so his doctor had been trying several different meds. He ended up in the hospital after a suicide attempt where they finally put him back on the meds that work. He is again getting much better and is back to playing his guitar and wanting to begin recording. During the bad time he wiped out all of his recordings and destroyed his computer.
I always try to help him to get back to the things that he enjoys. I have helped him to purchase a new computer and I try to help him when I can. He lives in my unfinished basement, really a crawl space, but this is where he wants to be rather that the 2nd bedroom. I make sure that he has his meds and food and most anything that he asks for. My sister and brothers feel that I am enabling him and that I should push him to get his own housing. In my little town of less than 8000 there really isn’t much support of this kind.
I feel like I haven’t explained very well but thanks for taking the time to read.


Everyone is uniquely different but from my perspective I honestly don’t believe that when you are talking about someone with a serious mental illness (like my son) that you can call anything we do actual “enabling”. Not really. I call everything we do necessary. My son is almost 35 and has been stabilized for 8+ years now. I believe wholeheartedly that his stability has lasted because he is still living with me which keeps his stress levels very low. Low stress is a critical element for anyone with sz trying to remain stable. He has a predictable daily routine (chores, exercise, etc…) and I handle anything remotely stressful (bills, household management). He does help me around the house quite a bit and he has his hobbies and we do things together but I believe he is doing what he can do…we’ve tried other things over the years, living elsewhere, trying to get even part time work, taking classes, meeting people to make friends, and he is not wanting any of this and if I push him against his will, his stability becomes shaken and he seems to literally unravel…I believe and trust that he knows his limits and if I want him to stay as stable and able and happy as he is today…he will likely always live with me. PS: my son started off sleeping in his closet, today he uses his bedroom normally…seeing the benefits of real wellness can take a few years sometimes. My very best to you and your son and I am so ecstatic to hear that he is back on a medicine that is working for him. Take care and welcome to the forum!!


Hello Velma,
Welcome to the forum. What I hear from your post is how much you care for your son. Any parent would do the same. Sz can be so disabling, from what I read, these episodes can very very serious. I have experienced one episode with my son, I am by no means an expert, and No one else is walking in your shoes.
Thank you for sharing your story, AnnieNorCal


Medication can relieve or erase the symptoms of a mental illness, but it does not change their underlying personality. Our daughter was lazy when it came to chores around the house before her psychotic break and successful medication did not change that.

She also destroyed a vehicle, her phone, my laptop and laptop of others. We did not replace those for her. It took her sometime after successful medication to go to work, earn and replace those items. It’s enabling when you do everything for them (laundry, cooking, etc), replace what they destroy, or put their needs before yours such as spending a large portion of your own income (not saving for retirement) on them instead of on yourself.

It doesn’t sound like living in a crawl space/basement is enabling unless somehow that costs you extra. Your other adult children are probably more envious of the time spent with him. The area in which you live sounds fairly rural and probably difficult to find affordable housing for those with no issues. Even in medium to large cities, there is little to no housing available for those who suffer from a mental illness.



My favorite definition of enable: to do something for a person that they can do for themselves.

It’s sometimes hard to find out and make this distinction when a person has serious mental illness, but worth the effort as it protects the relationship.


Thank you for your replies. I have not had the opportunity to log on for a bit but I am glad that I did today. I have people in my life (family and friends) that just do not get it and it is helpful to interact with people who do. My son is doing much better since getting med organized. I say the he is his normal ornery rather than his SZ ornery. He is communicating again and involve in doing his thing.


I do live in rural Eastern Montana. A small town with very little in terms of support for my son or for me. The medical center does have a behavioral health clinic so I am grateful for that. Again, thanks for the great support.

Very glad to hear that everyone is doing better.

Have never spent much time in Eastern Montana. Our time is usually spent West of Butte or Billings and south.

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Hello Velma,
Good to hear you are getting a moment of clarity with your son. AnnieNorCal

I had this same question time and time again while my dad was still alive. It was someone I didn’t know too well that gave me the best advice and I can say since my dad has now passed from schizophrenia I am completely comfortable with everything I choose to do, and feel comfortable with all my choices regarding him and showing him love.

She said…
At the end of the day, when they are gone, you’re the one who has to feel comfortable with what you did and how you decided to help and show support. God forbid anything ever happen it’s not the psychologist, your lover, your mother, the author of the self help book, myself… that has to be okay and live with your choices. Only you. Therefore make sure that you do acknowledge what you feel you need to do for your loved one. Weigh it out and pick the choice that you will be able to accept in the end.


Thank you for posting this. I have been tortured at times with my decisions regarding my daughter’s sz, but those words your acquaintance said ring very true to me: and can be applied to day to day decisions as well.

I remember trying to force my daughter to fix food for herself when she was unmedicated and unspeaking on a day to day basis. I simply stopped trying to give her meals. I look back now that she is on meds (and still doesn’t eat meals unless they are given to her) and see that I made a wrong choice in those weeks of not cooking for her and knocking on her door to give her food.

I am glad that you are at peace with yourself for your choices made for your dad. I hope that you can always find solace in looking at the good things you did for him, now that he has moved on to the next life.


I’m really glad this popped back up in the “latest” list. I must have missed it.
This is a really tough question. It’s one I struggle with all the time, not just for my DX’d brother.

When is it time to pack up the pleasantries and start playing hardball?
How much tough love is too much?
I do know that identifying when efforts are not working and trying something else is important. It’s also important to identify when good results come from unexpected events.

It’s been documented here that even jail can be a blessing in the right circumstances.
It’s also been documented that persistent empathy and compassion have helped.
Because the disorder is so uncertain and because the line between symptoms and choices is invisible,
We can only do the best we can with the information we have.

I have come to believe that treatment should be scaled in tune with results. That starting out with therapy is the best first choice, but gradually introducing additional treatment options is often necessary.
When the DX’d can’t or won’t live in a healthy way, feeling peace of mind, a sense of security and positivity toward the future; more involved treatment is necessary. Often; daily therapy and medication, out patient, or inpatient treatment and a vast support network of family, friends and medical staff.

I do know that when left to their own devices and isolated from family and doctors, Schizophrenic people can experience worsening symptoms without even realizing it’s happening.

So (in my opinion), if someone you care about can’t feel safe, comfortable and confident about their own good future; empathize, support, ease the burden of their responsibilities. And get as many people involved as you can among family and friends. Then, work toward getting them a more directly involved treatment plan.
And persist, even after they begin to feel better about things. Even after months of solid results, persist.

Making mistakes and feeling guilt are part of supporting and caring for someone with a disorder. It’s important to do the best you know how, the best you can. So that when guilt rears it’s ugly head, you can at least feel reassured that you have always done your best. And that’s better than doing nothing.


Thank you for your post, wreklus. I am hoping some day my husband will seriously seek treatment. It is hard for him to be on his own, homeless and so far away (thousands of miles) while suffering delusions. Last night he begged me (and threatened) to wire him money because he is hungry. It was a difficult decision for me because I only recently received a paycheck and have bills to pay. I will send him what I am able and that will have to be enough. I know he will complain it isn’t enough, and it probably won’t be enough to sustain him longer than a few days with his cigarette and junk food habits, but it will ease my mind that I have done what I can.


I’m sure it won’t be enough. Chances are, no amount would ever be enough. If money were his only barrier, he would be living perfectly comfortably.

I know for my DX’d brother, he often cites money as one of his major issues. But even when he lived with me and I paid all of his expenses, including all the same entertainment I afforded myself; he still had all of the exact same problems in all of the exact same ways.

I assume the same is probably true for most people who believe all they are lacking is money. When really, 99% of the time, it’s actually lifestyle and choices.


My ex fiancé has been in what seems to be a never ending state of psychosis and to make a difficult situation worse he has anosognosia. All of his delusions and hallucinations involved me being the enemy in one way or another which in turn makes him act violently. I noticed red flags and unusual behavior our entire relationship, most of them I brushed off as odd personality quirks. Now looking back the red flags seem like huge flashing hazard lights. Example, I found multiple voice recorders. My first thought was that he was acting on a frequent accusation of me cheating and was trying to “catch me in the act”. Then I listened to the tapes and realized they were only recorded when he was home alone or by himself in the car. At the time it left me even more confused but knowing what I know now I assume that’s when he started hearing the voices and struggling with reality.

He has been arrested and involuntarily committed twice but his condition continues to decline. I tried to help him in every way I knew how but it only exacerbated his anger and symptoms, even when delicately approached. After a gun related incident I had to make the difficult decision to cut off all communication and a protective order was issued for my son and me.

At the time I felt like I was enabling him and now that communication has been severed I struggle with the guilt of feeling like I didn’t do enough. I am new here but have read most all of the threads and have not come across any others that have had to completely cut off contact. I’m sure I’m not alone but sometimes it surely feels like it.

Hi aco_205,

I hope that you can come around to feeling OK with your decision. Honestly, I have not been very happy with my decision to stay in touch with my husband (who is homeless, unmedicated and far away) and help him financially when I am able, but I also feel a lot of compassion for his situation and know that he’s not failing to succeed intentionally. He also has never harmed me physically or threatened physical harm. That is where I would draw the line. Your ex-fiance used a gun in combination with his anger and there should be no hesitation from you to protect yourself and your son. You did the right thing! It is difficult for me to talk about my situation with friends, family and people who don’t understand. This forum has brought me a great deal of comfort. I hope it does for you as well.


This is exactly what I was dealing with when my husband and I lived together. The only thing that has changed is that he has to call and harass me to try to get money. I thought it would be easier on me, being so far away, but now it includes the family member who I live with who does not want to block numbers or change their phone number (land line), so I am on edge all the time when I am at the house, picking up the phone as soon as it rings to make sure I am the one to answer.

I feel I am in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. I feel it would be cruel to deny money to my homeless husband when I am working a bit now and can afford to send him a small amount. I can’t quite recall your whole story with your brother (difficult to remember everyone’s stories on this forum). Does he still ask you for money?

My brother doesn’t ask me for money anymore.
He has disability and has recently moved in with our mom.
He still struggles daily with symptoms, but he sees his doctor, goes to group therapy (one-on-one therapy soon, too) and is talking about wanting to work and start a relationship.
Despite symptoms, his treatment program allows him to enjoy some parts of each day. He is starting to realize he needs a very involved treatment plan if he’s going to change the way he lives and the effects of his Schizophrenia.
But these improvements happen in waves. He naturally tries to become sedentary, with no goals or dreams to work toward most of the time.

It underlines to me that (for my brother specifically)any help short of an effective treatment program is really just appeasement and enabling.
I think that any suffering he endures while avoiding treatment (for him, daily therapy and frequent medication adjustments) is optional.
Sad that he chooses to suffer sometimes.

However, he and I have spoken about what to do if he ever became threatening, suicidal, or tried to walk off into the streets alone. He has said he wants his family to do what it takes to get him committed, because it would definitely save his life. Anything, including fooling him into checking in at an inpatient facility.

So, for me, for my brother specifically, I’d make whatever sacrifices it might take to put him in a treatment facility. Even though he would hate it, and there are many injustices in the system, he would live. And there would be a slim chance that maybe he would opt for voluntary outpatient treatment afterward to prevent involuntary commitment.

I know it’s different for each individual. But, that is my brother’s will for himself, if he lost the capacity to decide and became reckless or dangerous.
It’s a bit of a burden for family to bear on his behalf, but I am strong enough to be the bad guy in my brother’s (and my family’s) opinion, if it would save his life.

Hi wrecklus,

It’s good that your brother at least agrees to the plan of your family getting him committed if things get bad. Situations such as being threatening, suicidal and becoming homeless are worst case scenarios compared with the possibility of getting successful treatment in a facility (plus having a place to sleep and being fed). Your brother must have a shred of clear thinking! My husband will not accept medical attention or alternative treatments and he chooses to suffer instead and causes me to suffer by extension. I hope your brother can stay on an even keel for a good while.

Thanks. We will see how things go for my brother.

I imagine the pain of witnessing a loved one choose to be homeless must be unbearable.
Unfortunately, the people who choose suffering rarely know or care that they also choose suffering for the people who care about them.
It is entirely selfish and harmful.
Loved ones of someone who chooses suffering are forced to make one of several terrible choices;
cut ties
physically force the other person to get help
Or (most often) suffer the worst fate of living halfway between those things.