Q&A: How to help family while on a limited budget

Dear Liz: My son, who is almost 50, is mentally and emotionally challenged. He has been unemployed and homeless for years. Although not a criminal, he’s been in jail a few times because of his explosive, combative nature. There seems to be no help for him in the state where he lives. I do send a few dollars for his basic needs when I can, but must be careful with my budget. Do you have any tips that might be helpful in this situation?

Answer: You’re living with a heartbreaking situation. You want to help, but given your age and financial circumstances your ability to do so is limited. Unless you set some boundaries, you could run through your savings and possibly wind up homeless yourself.

You’ll find some helpful resources at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (www.nami.org), which offers information and, in many locations, support groups for families. Another place to find comfort, insights and suggestions would be a 12-step group for co-dependency, such as Co-Dependents Anonymous (www.coda.org), Al-Anon (www.al-anon.org) and Nar-Anon (www.nar-anon.org). Substance abuse often accompanies mental illness, so you may find it helpful to talk to others who have dealt with problem drinkers (Al-Anon) or addicts (Nar-Anon).

Every state has at least some resources for the mentally ill. You can start your search at MentalHealth.gov to see what might be available where your son lives and let him know the options. But as the members of any support group will tell you, you cannot fix another human being or force him to change. What you can do is to take care of yourself.

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  1. This can be a very hard situation. Thanks for sharing some ideas of what to do and how to help, Liz.

  2. Patricia G. says

    Hello Liz,
    I too have a grown son and he is over 50. He is autistic we just learned in the last 10 years. We’ve been through the mill over many years in seeking help. The most helpful is Social Services in any county which helps with housing and food allowances (SNAP).
    CODA or 12 step programs don’t help much with mentally ill people, but they’re a help for parents. (I personally started with CODA in 1988 and have continued with). When my son was diagnosed with autism, the M.D. at the County Mental Health Assn. prescribed Abilify. It’s the only thing they can give autistic people that works best. But it’s exceptionally expensive. As my son was hospitalized several times in the past for depression he was approved for Social Security Disability and Medicare so his medication is covered by them.
    It’s become so that it’s standard thinking that most mentally ill people are addicted to drugs. I seriously doubt the the truth of that. If they’re “out of it” they wouldn’t have the savvy or means to buy drugs. And some have hallucinations, an altered state, so why would they need drugs?
    But to get into any programs one needs an advocate to help them wind their way through the endless paperwork, processes, interviews, long waiting times, and in person evaluations, often annually, once one is in a program(s). Maybe this is where the mental health alliance could help. But the breakthrough for us was when we lost my son’s private M.D. Psychiatrist as he moved out of state, and I sought help from our county’s Mental Health Dept. And his private Psychiatrist had misdiagnosed him with something more severe and given him drugs that kept him in a stupor.
    My son is unable to live on his own so he’s lived with me for all but about 3 years of his life. On the medication he’s more able to function and it helps that I oversee that he takes his medication. I didn’t know until he was diagnosed that autistic people have a terrific amount of anxiety, and his medication and a stable home life have helped him immeasurably.
    I hope this input helps.

  3. VIcki johnson says

    I have found a lot of elderly people do not have computers due to their limited income and some do not know how to use them. In addition to the web site an 800 number and/or address to write to the organization would be helpful.
    I’ve gotten great advise from your column, thank you so much!