Home Teaching the Mentally Ill: A Plea for Counsel.

February 7, 2011    By: Matt W. @ 8:26 am   Category: Life

I am not really sure I should be posting this. Names have been changed to protect the innocent. Please excuse my grammar errors.

I don’t really know what to do. It is the sort of situation I’ve never really thought about. But let me start from the beginning. Lightning moved here years ago, following his sister and parents. Lightning has never been diagnosed, mainly due to parents who have issues that are similar to his, but his sister believes him to have some form of high functioning autism. I am not sure that matches his symptoms, but I have no medical expertise in this area. Lightning spent years in the singles ward here, variously leering at girls until they became uncomfortable, or telling girls they were fat, or bearing his testimony of how he had to beat someone up for on his mission to teach them humility. Eventually, Lightning’s brother-in-law got a job far away and moved, taking sister and eventually parents away. Lightning chose to stay, being over thirty, and moved into our ward, having reached “the age”. Having known Lightning’s sister, I tried to keep an eye on Lightning. I helped him do his taxes, occasionally took him food, and let him do laundry at my home. Lightning meanwhile got a permit to carry a gun and became a security guard, and perpetually asked me if he could write my sister-in-law, “since she’d lost weight”. Lightning was a little odd, making inappropriate comments in Sunday School about teaching other missionaries humility on his mission to the slums of salt lake city, where he taught the gangs. (He did actually serve a mission to SLC. I don’t know about the rest.) Occasionally he would tell me things like God gave him super strength, and this would worry me, but not as much as his owning a gun did. Also a worry to me is Lightning’s engagement to a girl in the Philippines, whom he has flown over to see once. (Using the money from his tax return I helped him to get, and being unable to pay his bills for months afterward)

Recently, Lightning’s best buddy Mater moved in with him. They’ve been friends since they were three. Mater has schizoaffective disorder, and is living on his $600 a month disability. Mater refuses medical help and believes the medicines he’d been receiving for his disability were making life more difficult for him. Mater has self diagnosed that the only medicine he needs is a good cigarette and a long walk. Like Lightning, Mater’s greatest desire is to be married and have children, stating he would quit the church and get a prostitute if he did not believe that were an option. Mater is missing most of his teeth, but refuses to see the dentist. After Mater’s move in, Lightning’s erratic behavior has gotten more troubled, and after working it out with the powers that be, I’ve gotten them a home teacher by volunteering for the position. But back to erratic, Lightning has breezed through 5 or so jobs in the last year, and requires financial assistance nearly every other month from the church. He has reportedly told people, including his roommate Mater, that he is the prophet or a “secret apostle”, though he denies it to me. Also, we had to move him into subsidized housing after the previous complex he lived in had an apartment fire, which Lightning told the complex workers was arson, because the Spirit told him so. (I am not saying that Lightning had anything to do with the fire) And recently our Bishop received a letter from the first presidency asking him to address a letter from Lightning where he had written the prophet complaining that our ward had been in the wrong for not allowing Lightning to cure a woman of cancer when she had gone into a seizure at a recent church meeting. Due to many of these factors, my wife and I are increasingly uncomfortable with Lightning and Mater being around our Children.

And yet, there is no one else. These guys don’t have family supporting them, and whatever money family sends, they have no ability to manage. So now I take them to the laundromat ocassionally, and out to eat, rather than to my home. I buy them bus passes, and try to talk them through baby steps of progress.

Last week at dinner, while Mater complained of having no money for any food, and Lightning asked if they could donate the canned goods ( green beans, corn, soup, etc.) I had given them to the church, because they were not vegetarian, I began to despair. Perhaps it was their hatred for the kind old man who lives in the apartment complex with them, who has “stabbed them in the back to their face” because he does not ask them for rides to church, but comes with another member, perhaps it was Mater’s leaving his free meal half-eaten and storming out of the resteraunt because I pleaded with him to be kinder to the old man. Perhaps it was that, while looking at their expenses, I saw their $80 gym membership, the $100 cell phones, their $50 wireless Internet, all of which some salesperson will get a commission on, but these guys will switch providers in a few months due to inability to pay. Perhaps it was the killings in Arizona, but I’d lost hope.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe in the power of the resurrection, but it is a nonstarter for me to think of these men my age (33) in terms of death being the longed for release. Where is the atonement for them now? Who is there to be their Balm of Gilead today? It’s not me; I don’t know what to do. So I bought a pound of brisket for Lightning to take home and sit here, two weeks later, wondering what to do.

Mater calls me every other day. Lightning tells him to call most of the time.

In the last week, the mother of Mater has written the Bishop, and I have written Lightning’s Family. The only glimmer of hope I have is that maybe if we convince Lightning to move near his sister and Mater stays here, the two, separately, will improve and be able to be reasoned with. I am not sure how this can be done, as it requires Lightning and Mater’s consent.

The counsel I am getting is that I need to protect myself and my family, and not get too involved. This is probably wise counsel, but it leaves these two with no one watching out for them. I don’t really know what to do. How do we, as a church, minister to people like Lightning and Mater?


  1. Bless you for your charity to these two, Matt. But all I could think while reading this was– Brian David Mitchell. I would have to agree with those who say protect your family.

    Comment by C Jones — February 7, 2011 @ 9:43 am

  2. I admire your charity to these men. About the only advice I might give is to seek out some counseling for them. Perhaps this has already been done.

    There is a temptation to just teach correct principles and just let them govern themselves. Once in a while this may have disasterous affect.

    I am concerned about this as well because we have a son which we strongly suspect of having dyspraxia. As good as his attitude is, he is going to have a hard time getting any kind of job and keeping it – let alone school.

    When it comes to the atonement, these men have access to the gospel. They have access to the spirit. At some point, unless we want to attempt to ‘institutionalize’ them we are going to have to let them go out on their own.

    But I do think the church could maybe do more in terms of providing some mental health services for people like this. I feel we are just scratching the surface in this area.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — February 7, 2011 @ 9:51 am

  3. this post made me cry. i have no words of wisdom or advice, although i do think that the world would be much more lovely if there were more thoughtful and compassionate people like you around. who has the answers for this kind of thing? i don’t know. i do have hope that things will work out for you and for your friends, and i believe you are a great example of a true disciple. god bless

    Comment by Renee — February 7, 2011 @ 10:19 am

  4. Once again proving you are a better person than I. I wish I had advice. I too am assigned as home teacher to a person with fairly serious mental health issues. Although I have done things on occassion to help out when there was a clear need I could address, most of the time I have a hard time even visiting because the problems are so far out of the scope of what I can address, the person has never been active, the person’s phone is perpetually disconnected, and honestly I don’t have enough charity for freeloaders. I don’t mind putting that in writing because God already knows my heart so I am screwed either way.

    Comment by Jacob J — February 7, 2011 @ 10:45 am

  5. I agree with the person who said help them access mental health services. I’m not sure where you live, but there are county based mental health services that take “walk-ins” and let them do an evaluation and determine which steps to take from that point. Mental health therapy is hard to convince people to stay involved with and it sounds like Mater had a psychiatrist at some point but was unsuccessful because he didn’t believe he needed it. This is the case with many adults with mental illness, hence they self medicate (cigarettes for Mater, it seems) and eventually will end up homeless.

    You can only help someone as much as they are willing to be helped. They have agency, also and you have already learned that you can’t change what they do with their own agency.

    I applaud you for your honest attempts to help these two men. My suggestion would be to try to hook them up with other resources outside of yourself and continue monthly check-ins to monitor for safety risk factors.

    Comment by Casherie — February 7, 2011 @ 11:30 am

  6. Echoing others, I would also contact social services in your county to see what sort of support they can offer. I think you are wise to see the young men outside of your home and loving to be so concerned. Bless you all.

    Comment by ESO — February 7, 2011 @ 11:55 am

  7. Having had direct and indirect experience with similar situations, I would say that there isn’t a silver bullet. You are taking on a long term project. I would suggest that you accept before hand that total resolution is not a reasonable goal.

    While every situation is different, based my my experiences there is one rule that I have made for myself; never let anything slide out of discomfort.

    If you feel like you are being taken advantage of say so. If you are offended, say so. If a request is unfair/unreasonable, say so and explain why. Insist on apologies when lines are crossed. If you feel unsafe, call the police.

    Our natural response is to let things pass for fear of rocking the boat. This inevitably progresses to an unhealthy relationship that may do more damage than good. It is an unacceptable burden on you and reinforces self-defeating behavior on the part of the individual with mental health issues.

    In many cases, the individual has already developed the habit of targeting the person(s) who are least likely to enforce boundaries. If you are that person, then IMO you need to have a talk with your leadership about whether or not you are the right person for this responsibility.

    Comment by MAC — February 7, 2011 @ 12:38 pm

  8. What MAC said.

    Comment by Last Lemming — February 7, 2011 @ 12:44 pm

  9. A few years ago my son-in-law was diagnosed as bipolar with anxiety disorder. He and my daughter have four children and now live at our home. Consequently I have been immersed in the world of mental illness like I never expected. He is high functioning (he teaches at a local college) but we realize his ‘functioning’ could come to an end at any moment through a bad moment at work, or even suicide.

    I have previously served as a bishop and stake president, so I have been exposed to many challenging situations in the lives of latter-day saints. None of them have been as perplexing as is this. It is unclear how much mental illness trumps agency, if at all, or maybe a lot – it is unclear to me. The life patterns that accompany mental illness patients are exremely difficult to live with – if 3 good young men earned celestial rewards by walking through really cold water, then my daughter earned hers long ago. My son-in-law and I have become very close. He talks with me about practically everything.

    Some things I’ve come to realize: 1) His soul is precious to God and very much like my own, 2)for whatever reason he – and those close to him – have this unique mortal challenge which will likely last a lifetime, 3) in the end, the atonement will heal this too, 4) I am most helpful to him when I act like a normal, healthy individual around him, i.e., #7 above MAC “If you feel like you are being taken advantage of say so. If you are offended, say so. If a request is unfair/unreasonable, say so and explain why. Insist on apologies when lines are crossed.”
    5) This whole experience has been sanctifying for my daughter, my wife, and myself.

    Comment by no name today — February 7, 2011 @ 3:25 pm

  10. I feel for you. As you know, there aren’t any easy answers. Be sure to maintain boundaries, as MAC said. Bless you for doing so much to help!

    I would add: be prepared in case they decide to blame all their problems on you, or to tell you that you’ve done them terrible harm, or steal from you, or lie to you. It’s not easy, but when you help people you always leave yourself open to such things. Only God knows how much agency they have, as you say.

    Know that trying your best matters, and rejoice in small things. If one of them smiles at you or makes tiny progress in any way, be glad. Realize that patience is necessary, and good can and will come from your efforts, even if you don’t see it now or indeed, ever. It still is good, what you’re doing. It’s very hard, like missionary work is hard. It’s hard to overcome your own fear and distaste and discomfort and annoyance and continue to love people who seem to get nothing worthwhile out of it.

    Bless you again. I’m so glad you’re helping them. There are so many of the Lord’s lost sheep who need help. We are like them, only a little less so. We are all unprofitable servants. Stay safe. Be wise. Good luck.

    Comment by Tatiana — February 7, 2011 @ 5:35 pm

  11. My experience with a mentally ill sibling has taught me that no amount of love or money could heal my sister. That isn’t to say that I should withhold either because they would not lead to my desired outcome. But I learned (am and still learning) to adjust my expectation, to accept her illness, the limitations it places on her and the consequences that inevitably reverberate through the lives of those who remain in her life.

    It is at times very difficult to remain a part of my sister’s life because she can be astonishingly blase about the demands–emotional, fiscal, time–she places on others. She can be alienating one day and ingratiating the next. To remain in her life is to accept that it will largely be a thankless task that will not resemble a normal relationship. Because the costs are so high virtually everyone, including family, eventually drops out. When you understand what it means to be one of the few people left in the life of a mentally ill person whose disease has resulted in a life of nearly unbroken isolation, you learn to stop blaming others for the choices they make because you know firsthand the costs of remaining. But you also become profoundly grateful to those who make the effort to be a part of her life. A visit by a home teacher, a call by a former professor, a letter from a high school friend–these seem to me lifelines, each with the promise to draw my sister slightly back into functioning society where to my layman’s eye she seems to do better. At the very least they are a recognition of her personhood.

    All of which is to say that I think it is wonderful that you have already done so much and would encourage you to remain involved in Lightning’s life however you are able. Taking him for a meal and sitting and conversing while the two of you eat is great. And MAC’s suggestions seem reasonable to me.

    And while I’m not familiar with the specifics of Lightning’s situation, my understanding is that the mentally ill are no more likely to be violent that the general population.

    Comment by Mathew — February 7, 2011 @ 6:10 pm

  12. Mostly I can just echo what others have already said.

    1. There are TONS of mental health services out there. Check out what’s available in your community. Some of them are great and some are not so great. If you visit them and it looks like a place where patients are respected, cool, and feel free to tell them about it/take them over for a visit. On the other hand if it looks like the kind of place you’d go to get an abortion from a lady with a coathanger, they probably won’t feel comfortable there either. To be fair, some shrinks are not nice to patients, and sometimes medications can cause side effects- there may have been some legitimate issues with the meds and treatment Mater was getting. It can take trial-and-error and some extra mileage on everyone’s part just to get the right meds, if it happens at all.

    2. TOTALLY. SET. BOUNDARIES. For example, let them know that there are only certain times of day when you’re going to pick up the phone, and if they need someone at any other time, they can call X (for example, above-mentioned mental health and/or welfare resources you’ve already told them about). If they don’t respect the boundaries, tell them you’re changing your phone number. Then do it.

    This is from experiencing the ugly side of missionary work (when the ward’s elders’ willingness to “preach to the humble” edged into “preying on the mentally ill) and from a bipolar cousin with a crack problem. She wasn’t in my life much because if she was in my life at all, she was trying to take it over. I gave her a whole lot of cold shoulder. She committed suicide a couple of years ago and yeah, I have some guilt about not having responded some more when she tried to reach out during her good times. But try and think my way through as I can, I can’t imagine it having really gone much better if I was more open to her. I was pretty immature myself at the time and we always just ended up fighting like cats and dogs.

    So I guess the moral of the story is, even if there’s family, don’t just assume that they can help with the situation. They have kids to protect too. Mentally ill relatives can be incredibly toxic to the entire family. (Let’s talk about the time said cousin aided her stepsister’s abusive husband in cutting off contact between the stepsister and the rest of the family. Funny how nobody ever tells family stories like that one over the pulpit!) On the other hand, it certainly can’t hurt to at least contact the family and see what they know.

    Meanwhile remember that there are trained professionals who know crazy a lot better than you, and who get paid for their time in caring for the mentally ill.

    Comment by mellifera — February 7, 2011 @ 6:41 pm

  13. When someone is mentally ill and lacks insight, it can simply be impossible at times to truly help them. The way our laws regarding the mentally ill are structured, sometimes people are legally competent who can’t actually manage their own affairs, and your friends seem to be in this category. I would seek for the guidance of the spirit and work to change the laws governing the mentally ill. It seems to me that the church is doing a huge service that is likely keeping them from homelessness and hunger, but the church can’t do what is really needed, which IMO, is for them to be in the custody of the state.

    Comment by E — February 7, 2011 @ 7:10 pm

  14. You asked for advice.

    Do your best to protect others from Lightning and Mater’s poor judgment.

    Do your best not to protect Lightning and Mater from their own poor judgment.

    They experience the personal consequences of their mental illness, the more they will eventually get the help they need.

    Trying to get them to temper their emotions or delusions is futile. They are not in control.

    Don’t be enticed into their fantasy world. Believe it or not, this is a real danger.

    Go see a therapist yourself, if only to understand what kind of mental illness you are dealing with.

    I think “high-functioning autism” is an understatement. Inexplicable and inappropriate emotional responses, paranoia, and delusional behaviors are symptoms of schizophrenia, at the very least.

    Keep your priesthood leaders well-informed concerning these young men. I would hope they already are. This post might not be a bad start.

    Comment by Matthew Chapman — February 7, 2011 @ 7:37 pm

  15. In normal interpersonal relationships we are used to reciprocal emotional, mental, and behavioral responses. This is not a normal situation so don’t expect those responses. All comments have been good but #7, #12, & #14 have been the most helpful for me since I run into this situation from time-to-time in my church calling, too. Sadly and all too often, the truly mentally ill resist – no, revolt against – the help they need.

    Comment by wally bob — February 7, 2011 @ 8:52 pm

  16. Wow! This is a problem.. I’m a home health nurse so I see this alot. Here is what I”m thinking
    I agree with some of the advice already listed. ie.. set boundaries and enforce it, keep your kids away from them.
    I don’t know what the law is in your state but generally people have a right to not take medications or be treated for anything. Especially mental illness. So there isn’t anything anyone or the state can do, usually. the only time the state can take over and force them to do anything is if they are actively homicidal, suicidal or in a catatonic state. Otherwise they are free to be delusional and random.
    the only thing I see that needs to be addressed is the gun issue. Usually people that are behaving that way should not have a gun. You’ll need to check with your local police about that situation. Personally, I would talk to the police about the gun issue.
    As for everything else, I would love them but set very strict boundaries. And just be prepared…they will probably hate you and cut off contact. But the goal here is to keep everyone, including yourself, safe. BTW, he may not be accountable, so don’t worry about his soul. The atonement will take care of everything for him.

    Comment by dc — February 7, 2011 @ 10:19 pm

  17. When I look back at frustrating situations that I couldn’t solve or even really help, the thing that seems to matter most is that I really did love and care for those people.

    I like very much suggestion 4 in post #9–be normal and decent around these guys. I would recommend that you not try to change them or convince them to act differently. Just be decent and good to them and accept them. Explain to them your needs and desires too.

    And also do your best not to get shot.

    Comment by Paul 2 — February 7, 2011 @ 11:35 pm

  18. Already lots of good advice.
    Don’t try to protect them from the consequences of their actions. It isn’t helpful. You can’t make them be normal. However, you can decide what you feel comfortable doing to help. Have boundaries.

    Comment by jks — February 7, 2011 @ 11:57 pm

  19. Having thought about this, I think that if someone took my mentally ill sibling on as a hometeachee, I would be ever so grateful, but I would be even more grateful to hear from him from time to time. Even if it’s just an e-mail every month or so, I would love a little objective picture of how my brother in a far away city was doing. Whether he was chronically without money or not attending Church, or buying firearms, or getting a new job–that is info I would really appreciate. Then I might be in a better position to extend appropriate help to my relative and take some of the burden off the home teacher.

    Comment by ESO — February 8, 2011 @ 6:43 am

  20. Thank you all for your thoughts and counsel. You’ve reaffirmed many of my own thoughts and given me new things to think about.

    Jacob, I simply disagree. I am not a better person than you.

    Comment by Matt W. — February 8, 2011 @ 7:23 am

  21. About #14: do your best to fulfill your primary responsibilities, which are yourself and your familyh.

    Comment by annegb — February 8, 2011 @ 9:35 am

  22. You have your calling and election made sure.
    You went after the lost sheep. As a mother of a son who has been rejected, ignored, teased, treated like dirt (all at the hands of church members and leaders), I am rejoicing that you are here…you give me hope that there is good in us all, and that charity never faileth.

    Yes, get their families involved. You have done your share and more.

    Bless you!

    Comment by MamaBear — February 8, 2011 @ 10:25 am

  23. The only other thing I can offer is that they need to be professionally evaluated, and a guardian ad litem appointed for them if they need an adult to look out for them. They might need to be in a halfway house or a home that can keep an eye on them.

    Even at their level of mental awareness, there has to be consequences for their actions and behavior.
    For one to have a gun is scary, even if he has never used it.

    Please, please be careful and seek the guidance of the Spirit.

    Comment by MamaBear — February 8, 2011 @ 10:30 am

  24. but I would be even more grateful to hear from him from time to time. Even if it’s just an e-mail every month or so, I would love a little objective picture of how my brother in a far away city was doing. Whether he was chronically without money or not attending Church, or buying firearms, or getting a new job–that is info I would really appreciate.

    No offence ESO, but this is exactly the kind of misplaced good intention that may exacerbate the problematic aspects of the situation.

    You should not facilitate a non-functioning relationship between the individual and their family. I suppose you could encourage the individual to contact family members themselves and you might provide reports to the sister/brother/parent if the family member approaches you. But injecting yourself into their family relationships? that is a slippery slope.

    If the individual is not sufficiently ill to be institutionalized, any thing you do to warp their environment to reduce the impact of their illness is a disservice. They need to be taught/coached to manage their own behavior with-respect-to the rest of the world, not the inverse.

    Comment by AnonForThis — February 8, 2011 @ 11:01 am

  25. And yet, there is no one else. These guys don’t have family supporting them,

    You don’t say otherwise, but their not having someone support them may not be the family’s fault. These are adult men who have a right to refuse treatment (as Mater’s choice not to medicate indicates).

    It is excruciating as a parent to watch a sick child who refuses treatment.

    Boundaries, well covered above, will be key for you and your family.

    And love, as you are showing, will be of value to these men, even if they do not fully realize it.

    Bless you.

    Comment by Paul — February 8, 2011 @ 11:03 am

  26. This is heartrending to read. The love and charity you are showing is admirable. I agree with all those who have also talked about boundaries.

    I’d only add to pray your guts out to make them. And maybe read a book on the topic if you haven’t already.

    One other thought that relates to others’ thoughts here — try to keep yourself from getting into ‘fix-it’ mode — not only will it be discouraging, but I think you will risk not being able to set those boundaries. Too easy to get emotionally involved and not use your head and the Spirit, too.

    This is hard stuff, Matt. You are a good soul.

    Comment by michelle — February 9, 2011 @ 1:06 am

  27. AS a mother of a son with schizophrenia, I am grateful there are people like you around. There are not many people who have been willing to help our son, and he is very lonely. The church doesn’t seem terribly interested in my son, probably because they don’t know how to relate, or what to do to help. “This kind cometh out only by prayer and fasting.”

    Lightning and Mater sound like they have schizophrenia, for sure, or possibly schizooaffective disorder. Lightning may have been normal when he applied for his mission. Schizophrenia often develops in young adulthood.

    My son hated the medications that the psychiatrist prescribed. After a lot of thought, study, fasting, priesthood blessings, and prayer we have found a non-medicine approach which has stabilized him, and now he has been off his meds for over a year, and is improving daily. Abram Hoffer’s approach (google it)of high doses of Niacin, while controversial (and supposedly ineffective,) actually works for our son. He hopes to serve a mission in the next year. We’ll see if he can. A person with schizophrenia generally loses one standard deviation level in their IQ after developing schizophrenia. But, this, too, can also heal, apparently.

    I don’t believe the psychiatric community when they say it doesn’t work, because it has worked for us. I suppose the drug companies–who make boatloads of money on the psychiatric meds ($1400/month for just one of our son’s meds)–financially incent the researchers, or skew the statistical interpretation, to make it look like it doesn’t work. The drug companies can’t make any money off of selling the water-soluble vitamin Niacin.

    You don’t have the responsibility to fix their problems–that falls on the family’s shoulder. L & M are adults now, though, so the families have limited power to do things in their behalf. It is a tough situation. I am glad we were able to intervene with our son while he still lived in our home. Maybe their families could still suggest a vitamin approach, though? “This kind cometh out only by prayer and fasting.”

    Maybe you could fast and pray with your bishopric for Lightning and Mater?

    Comment by KHT — February 9, 2011 @ 8:24 am

  28. Also, the mentally ill are much more likely to be a victim of violence, than an instigator of violence.

    Comment by KHT — February 9, 2011 @ 8:32 am

  29. If you want to continue to be of help don’t challenge them. Pay attention to comment 17 and find a NAMI (National Alliance on the Mental Illness)support group where you can go and talk to other people who understand what programs are available to the mentally ill in your area. It is amazing how validating it can be to meet with others who are dealing with the same challenges.

    If you think either one of them is dangerous take whatever steps are appropriate in you area to get court ordered help.

    Treatment works it is not too late for them.

    Comment by Stepheny — February 9, 2011 @ 3:05 pm

  30. This is one of those situations where the answer to WWJD is very different from WWBD.
    Of course, Jesus would lay his hands on their heads, and cast out their demons. More often than not, we don’t have that ability.

    Best of luck to you. I’d like to hear if there are any developments as the months go by.

    Comment by B.Russ — February 10, 2011 @ 12:29 pm

  31. This is going to sound harsh, but here goes.

    With several family members with mental illness- I say let them go until they have an “episode” that requires the authorities to get involved. This will get them the help that they need and won’t seek.

    Sure, be friendly and kind but don’t take it all on. Being the buffer between them and the world could be keeping them from coming to the attention of people who can provide what you can’t give. There are a multitude of mental illness services but they can’t be accessed until a person reaches a certain threshold of need; a threshold that is frighteningly too high.

    Comment by Jen — February 10, 2011 @ 12:49 pm

  32. I was a therapist to seriously & persistently mentally ill adults for many years in the Salt Lake area, so I know a bit of what you are talking about. In my ward, my visiting teachee (who was also the RS president) spoke to me at length re: a certain sister who was always threatening suicide, cutting, demanding food and financial help from the church, telephoning her and the bishop at all hours, needing rides, etc. The RS president didn’t know what I knew–that the sister was a client at our mental health agency. In a general sort of way (without breaking confidentiality), I told her that if the RS president knew that the sister was in mental health treatment, that she needed to contact the sister’s therapist in order to find out if her behaviors were actually enabling this sister. The client signed the release forms, and turns out, the church leaders were enabling her. The mental health agency already had been providing these services, and more, for years.

    If M & L are in treatment, I would do the bare minimum of home teaching (once a month contact) until they sign a release form for you to contact their therapists. You wouldn’t be manipulating them, you would simply choose to not engage in any therapy-interfering behaviors.

    I echo everything that has been said, esp. boundaries. You might even have to provide them something in writing, because folks with mental illnesses may forget what you say, or become confused.

    Also, don’t be afraid to be blunt. Sometimes we worry that we will offend people with mental illnesses if we tell them things like “you smell and you need a bath,” “I’m hanging up the phone now. I’ll talk to you another time,” or “I can’t talk to you when you are drunk.” Because of their mental illness, their frontal lobes aren’t working very well–that is the area of the brain that allows us to have complex, abstract thinking. So, they don’t get subtle hints. Be clear, be concrete, be brief in your conversations.

    Finally, I would encourage you to remember that M & L have gotten along fine without you for a long while, and after your help is gone, they will continue to get along. You do not have to save them. I know that this is a cognitive trap that many people fall into–they know that people with mental illnesses have no family support, so they try to step in and somehow make up for it. They’ll be fine.

    Good luck.

    Comment by Erin — February 10, 2011 @ 2:30 pm

  33. Tremendous comments on this thread. Just want to say thanks to everyone chiming in.

    Comment by Jacob J — February 10, 2011 @ 7:12 pm

  34. Thanks everyone, this has really been incredibly helpful.

    Comment by Matt W. — February 11, 2011 @ 8:51 am

  35. I appreciate how very sensitive and caring you are, Matt. From my experiences, I do think that Leaders try to care for Mentally ill and also at times will help them receive needed therapy by using funds. It is hard as Mental Illness is as my friend put it a chronic condition rather than an acute condition such as a cold where you are better with minimal treatment.

    Comment by Barb — February 11, 2011 @ 6:48 pm

  36. I am in awe of you and your desire to help these men. I raised two autistic sons and the younger one reminds me of Lightning, including the gun problem. He makes similar mistakes with money. He managed to marry and have three children and that is even more of a problem. He broke off contact with us a few years ago. However, when he shut us out, he turned to his wife’s mother and she is currently dealing with them. The wife also has problems. Somehow, they ran afoul of the Department of Children and Families and now seem to be getting the help they have needed so desperately. So, all the time we spent trying to keep them away from social services was probably a mistake, as they will take direction from others better than from us. Erin and Jen may have the right of it.

    Comment by Sherri — February 12, 2011 @ 1:34 pm

  37. “Of course, Jesus would lay his hands on their heads, and cast out their demons. More often than not, we don’t have that ability.” –
    Comment by B.Russ — February 10, 2011 @ 12:29 pm

    If you have the priesthood, then you have the ability. Its either lack of faith by either party that’s preventing it, or its not God’s will in a particular situation.

    Comment by DropIn — February 12, 2011 @ 10:40 pm

  38. Unfortunately there is nothing you can do. My best friend’s brother is a schizophrenic and has terrorized their family for the last 2 decades. There is NOTHING to do. The gov’t won’t/can’t help because they are adults and can’t be forced to do anything.

    Their only recourse is when he physically hurts one of them (without actually killing them), while they have 2 witnesses, and then they can have him thrown in jail for awhile, so at least he is safe and on meds. Otherwise he just breaks into their homes, threatens to kill them, roams the streets, can’t hold down a job, does drugs, etc.

    Its so sad. Her entire childhood and now, life, is controlled by her crazy older brother. And the saddest part is, there is no “freedom” in them being allowed to live this way. They are prisoners of their own demented minds…if they only stay on their meds they could have a somewhat normal, happy life. But the law unfortunately prevents that in these cases.

    They are simply waiting for him to kill someone and be put away for life, or to die in some street fight or drug overdose.

    Comment by Olive — February 13, 2011 @ 1:58 pm

  39. I’m coming a little late to this, and I hope things are well with you and your friends. My heart breaks at these difficult challenges and your dedication. I have some various experiences like this throughout my church service. The advice here is all pretty good: boundaries, bluntness, and getting them to whatever professional help they will possibly accept which is not at all easy to accomplish when they do not take responsibility for themselves.

    The only thing I could maybe emphasize would be to consult closely with your Priesthood leaders and with a professional adviser, like LDS Family Services or their references. Your leaders should be able to get you in contact with them and get consultation advice without charge for church service like this. When I was bishop our local LDS Family Services contact was an invaluable help to me.

    Comment by Grant — March 31, 2011 @ 9:19 pm

  40. I’ve been in similar situations. You are right to be scared. The fact that he won’t get as crazy with you (like professing to be the prophet) as with others is a good thing and makes it less likely that if something bad happened that you’d be in the middle of it – it would happen (if it happens at all) to those who get too familiar (buddy-buddy) and let him entertain his fantasies as part of that process.

    I can deal with almost any kind of mental disorder (as I’ve worked with quite a few) as long as I know there’s no serious danger of violence. His goals have to be adjusted to suit his needs, which it seems you’ve done, but I’d put an extra emphasis on making sure he’s safe. I strongly second those who recommend professional guidance. I’m sure one of the first things they’ll say is to get him out of that unhealthy relationship with the schizophrenic brother – that’s not doing either one of them any good.

    We offer in our ward a life-skills class we call “provident living” that some of our seemingly terminally financial dependents (of which we have a surprising number) must attend each week. It’s basically the 12-step program, but the emphasis is on self-sufficiency and breaking habits that prevent them from being self-sufficient which establishing habits that make them self-sufficient. Being self-sufficient goes a very long way to instilling hope in people like this and getting them to think more clearly. Being integrated with a healthy population is key … but of course this is a particular challenge with mentally ill people. We’ve called a wondeful brother in the stake that does these weekly classes and provides weekly feedback to the bishopric … it’s a big job, but very well worth it. He’s also the one who does the investigators gospel principles class.

    Note that financial help from the church is contingent on their going … and as part of the process (as with any 12-step) they need to have a champion/coach … I’d recommend someone with time and means. It’s a big calling, but recommend to your bishop to combine with the other bishops to get this into place and make it a multi-ward thing. It can be tremendously beneficial.

    Lastly, you’re taking on too much here. That’s where danger lies (familiarity can breed contempt in these cases)… especially if you have kids. I know there’s a common feeling in the church to sometimes make the Bishop’s job less burdensome, but he should really be calling the shots here. I would recommend that you ask him and the other ward/stake leaders to pray for guidance and find someone else to whom you can offload some of the responsibility, while keeping you in the loop of course. I would be careful about selecting a father with young children to work with someone like this – It’s good to volunteer but that also gives you the right to disvolunteer – this was, afterall, not a calling the Bishop felt inspired to give to you and you’re entitled to inspiration regarding your capacity to fill the need and regarding your family’s safety. Act on that inspiration.

    Comment by davea0511 — April 11, 2011 @ 9:30 am

  41. davea0511- I am interested in this “provident living” class. How do you do it so that it isn’t embarrassing for those in the class? ie- How do you make it so that they don’t feel like they are being singled out or are “less than” other members. I think it is a good idea, just wondering.

    Comment by Matt W. — April 12, 2011 @ 7:27 am

  42. Lightening and Mater would probably do better if they were closer to a support group, headed by a professional. It appears they know just enough to go through the motions of daily survival, but are far from being able to live alone. Medication might help, if they are not taking some. Unless you are “well-trained” in working with the mentally challanged, leave them to a professional. From what I understand, your hands are full, just caring for yourself and your family. Good luck!

    Comment by 2 Degrees in Psychology — July 8, 2011 @ 12:30 pm

  43. I am mentally ill. I also hold a full time job, a templ reccommend and a calling. Lots of days it is a severe struggle for me, somedays not so much. I struggle a lot with the church, the gospel, members, and my faith.

    I think you should get a grip. You cannot save them and I doubt they want you to. It sounds very much like you would like to control them and the way they respond. They are crazy! I know when I am crazy and I can’t stop it even when it is spiraling out of control and frustrating those around me.

    Chill out. The fact that they are crazy doesn’t reflect badly on you. So what if they give the food back to the church? If they are eating they are fine. If you don’t want to give them food then don’t but don’t whine about what they do with it.

    Crazy people blow their money. This is a fact. I work in welfare and see it all day everyday. Nothing you do will change this behaviour. When I have a mania episode I may hop a plane to Japan regardless of if the bills have been paid. My hometeacher couldn’t stop me. My Pdoc couldn’t. I am NOT IN MY RIGHT MIND.

    My brain looks different than most ‘normal’folks. I’m learning that this challenge means I get to work to know God and His gospel in a different way. I have a deeper understanding of love and compassion and forgiveness. I don’t judge hastily. And it means most ‘normal’folks think I am crazy and give me a wide berth.

    What can you do as hometeacher or visiting teacher? Be my friend. Understand that crazy comes in lots of flavors for lots of reasons. Know that some days are good and some are bad. And yes, it is an easy out to always blame the crazy and ditch responsibility so beware of that but also rememeber that much of my mental process is childlike. We’re all different but for me a hello at church a short visit twice a month makes me feel secure and safe. I don’t a parent or a doctor or a medical sounding board. Just a friend.

    Comment by Aras — August 8, 2011 @ 10:33 am