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Ask A Therapist: I’m Caring for Mentally Ill Adult Brother

Q: If something was to happen to me my brother would not be able to survive.  I need help. My mother adopted my brother at 13 whom is 21 now.  He had been foster care since he was 2 years old.  They labeled him as mentally ill.  We would hit is head on the wall, get upset and not talk for hours, and walk with his head shaking and hand dangling.  He was in LD classes in school and had visited 33 different schools in his lifetime.  Growing up he moved to main stream classes and currently he is in his 3rd year in college but just started taking regular classes.  My mother passed away in 2007 and it was left to my dad to raise him.  My dad tried to get him help and was told that he could take care of himself.  My dad could not handle it any longer so I took him in.  It took him 7 times to pass his test to get his license.  He does maintain a dish washing job.  The best I can discribe him is he can do things but needs to be reminded and has no sense of reasoning.  Only follows directions but will follow them exactly.  Just yesterday he didn’t understand that if he couldn’t make it to work that he had to let them know.  He thought he could just go in the next day and tell them.  I have remind him to clean his room, and he isn’t apart of the household.  He just stays in his room all the time.  I have realized he needs someone for a lifetime and I can’t provide it.  I am a single mother of three girls and need help.  He needs help with his finances.  I didn’t realize that til he was 500 dollars in the hole and wasn’t paying any bills.  I just don’t know where to start to get him the help that he needs.  Please help.

A: Thanks for writing in for help. I want to commend your for taking in your brother. That is very courageous. It sounds extremely difficult to see no end in sight, and to know how vulnerable he would be in the world without someone to guide and support him. I believe that there are two things that need to happen at this point: 1) access additional support for your brother and 2) find  help and relief for you so you don’t completely burn out.

Does your brother have an official diagnosis? If not, I recommend that you take your brother in for psychological testing and evaluation. Depending on his diagnosis, he may be eligible for additional resources and care through your state, and may qualify for disability benefits. Please consider contacting NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) in North Carolina and inquire about advocacy and support services in your area, and contact your community social services agency here. Your brother may be eligible for some type of supervised housing situation, occupational therapy for life management skills, and other services. Putting some long-term help in place for your brother will hopefully alleviate some of your current burden and decrease your concerns about him if something should happen to you.

In the short run let’s get you some additional help. Can your father take shifts caring for your brother to give you a break on a regular basis? Are there any adult day care services in your area where you could know he was safe? There are resources available. Please reach out for support for both of you.

Take good care of you and yours!

Julie Hanks, LCSW

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