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kheredia's avatar

Can a person with schizophrenia live their entire life without telling anybody?

Asked by kheredia (5535 points ) September 20th, 2011

The reason I’m asking is because we suspect that my brother is schizophrenic but is unwilling to tell anybody. He has been on antidepressants for a couple years now but he hasn’t worked or had a social life for long before the antidepressants. He has a lot of the symptoms of schizophrenia. He talks to himself and a lot of the things he says don’t make any sense. He can sometimes sit and stare at a wall for hours without doing anything. He passes back and forth in his room sometimes. We told his doctor about what we suspected but when the doctor asked him if he hears people talking to him he said no.

I’m just wondering if a person who has schizophrenia can chose not to tell someone because that would mean that they know they are sick right? We just don’t know how to help him because he is always very detached from everybody.

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19 Answers

gailcalled's avatar

Whether you (and he) label his behavior seems almost irrelevant according to your description.

He clearly has behavior-altering symptoms and has a miserable and lonely life.

You need a better doctor, it seems to me. One does not make a sophisticated diagnosis of a mental disorder from one question.

I would bet that there is some relief out there for your brother. Take giant steps to help him. It is not up to him to self-diagnose.

How old is he? How old are you? Are there responsible adults in the house? They need to be assertive and start the process. You are essentially asking your brother to diagnose and then cast his own broken leg, if it is indeed broken and not sprained or bitten by a spider.

Good luck. You are a thoughtful sister.

marinelife's avatar

It would take a professional diagnosis. Will he see a psychiatrist?

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

They probably could if it was a mild case. Does he ever exhibit paranoid thoughts?

wundayatta's avatar

You can’t make him go to a doctor or a psychiatrist. You can’t make him seek treatment of any kind. And he can spend as much of his life as he can without getting a diagnosis, if he is even entitled to one. If he is functional, what can you say?

If he starts doing anti-social things—stalking people, hurting people, running around naked, then it may be possible to get him involuntarily put into a hospital. Other than harming others, there is no way to force him to get treatment.

However you can talk to him. You can tell him your fears. Be sympathetic and don’t have an agenda. Find out what he thinks about the things you notice. Do they bother him? Does he wish they might be some other way? If he does want change, you can work with that. Otherwise, not much you can do as long as he functions well enough.

The goal, of course, is to get him to seek help. You can offer to call doctors and set up appointments and do the other scutwork of dealing with the medical care system that mentally disabled people can’t do. Be flexible, about this and don’t expect that the outcome will be what you were hoping for.

tom_g's avatar

I used to work at a program that supported adult schizophrenics. I would help them with their day-to-day chores, monitor their progress, and do some informal crisis counseling. There were people there that had gone unnoticed and avoided diagnosis for years. The problem is that many of the thought patterns of this illness will eventually lead to behavior that is just hard to conceal.

One guy was only diagnosed and given help when he brought a shotgun to work with a plan to kill his coworker, whom he was convinced was out to get him. Fortunately, he realized that he needed help, so he walked across the street to the police station, fired 2 rounds at the building and waited. Nobody came out, so walked in, put his gun down and told the on-duty cop that he just fired at the police station. “I need help.”

Another guy was only diagnosed after he had unsuccessfully poisoned his 2 young kids.

There was also a young guy there who had been doing tons of drugs, so his parents just thought that his strange behavior was due to the drug use. There is some question as to whether the heavy acid use contributed to the illness, or was just an attempt at self-medication.

Anyway, schizophrenia can go undiagnosed for many years. There are many different flavors or levels of seriousness when it comes to schizophrenia, and some people can lead relatively-normal lives for a long time, while others can hardly cope. One guy I knew was convinced that the Robert Redford (yes, the actor) and the FBI had implanted a device in his head so that they could read his thoughts and transmit voices to his head. No amount of reasoning with him could convince him that the voices were a symptom of his illness. The mind is a curious thing.

kheredia's avatar

We are all adults. He is 34 years old and lives with my parents. He is terribly stubborn and gets angry at us when we try to tell him he needs professional help. He doesn’t communicate with us so it is very hard for us to know what goes on in his head. The only reason he’s taking antidepressants now is because my mother had to call the police and tell them that she felt my brother was a danger to himself. They came and took him by force and he spent about a month at a mental institution. This was the only way we were able to get him help because he refused to see a doctor otherwise. He’s doing better now but he’s still not well. Talking to him is not very effective.

wundayatta's avatar

I wouldn’t tell him what he should do. Most mentally ill people I know absolutely hate being told what to do. We prefer to make our own choices. We don’t like it when people are always asking if we have taken our meds. It makes us feel like children when people condescend to us and generally act as if we are non compos mentus. We may well be, but we still do better if people act respectfully instead of like we are incompetent.

If you want to ask if someone is taking their meds (or anything else related to an illness) then I think you need street cred. I can ask my friend if he takes his meds because he knows I care and understand. His brother or ex-wife or a cop or anyone else can’t ask the same question because they have no idea what is going on inside.

I’m not saying that’s the question. Just using it as an example.

I don’t think you should tell him “You need professional help.” You should take a most subtle approach. You need to find out how he feels first. You need to show you understand what it is like to be inside his head first. You can only do this is you stop yourself from judging his story or correcting his thoughts or fixing him as you go along. You must always try to see it as if you are in his head, not looking at his head.

If you can do that, and you can demonstrate you understand his thought process and what he sees in the world, then you might have the street cred necessary to offer him some suggestions he might accept, but never tell him he “needs to” or “has to” or “should” do something. In fact, try to avoid saying anything at all. See if you can lead him to draw his own conclusion. “Do you think other people perceive the world the way you do? If not, what is different and why do they see it differently. Do you think they are wrong to see it that way? Do you think you are right? How do you account for the difference? Etc. Etc.

kheredia's avatar

@wundayatta I never thought about it that way. We usually just have some small talk with him and then let him go about his life. It is very difficult to keep a conversation going with him because he never really says much. His answers usually persist of yes, no, or I don’t know.

wundayatta's avatar

@kheredia Do you have a sense of why he is reluctant to converse? Is he naturally that way? Is he afraid of revealing things? Does he not want to be bothered? Is he afraid of being attacked?

What does he do with his time, anyway?

My brother (who is not, as far as I know, mentally ill) is impossible to talk to. I think he simply doesn’t trust me, or is feeling competitive with me. Talking to him is like interrogating him. In such a case, I don’t think there is anything you can do. I will say that if you go out to dinner with my brother and someone else (especially someone who isn’t a blood relative), you are more likely to hear more about his life.

Does your brother have any friends?

emeraldisles's avatar

This is something I know my mom has. She has demonstrated some of the symptoms your brother has but has only had behavioral changes for the past 8 months. Before that she never did any of it or freaked me out.My mom can hide her symptoms when she really wants to like at work because she got sent home twice from work when she started screaming and talking to people who weren’t there. I suspect your brother deep down might know something is wrong and is ashamed to get help or could have a chemical inbalance and could think that his behavior is normal.My mom thought people were following her to work and following her home so that she could be ’‘tested’’.She even didn’t return anybody’s phone calls because that’s how wrapped in her own world she is.I hope you get the answers you are seeking.

JLeslie's avatar

I’m going to say yes. If the hallucinations are mild, and he can compensate, and knows they are not real, then yes.

kheredia's avatar

@wundayatta My brother has always been the quiet, shy guy who doesn’t have many friends. He finished high school and then started working like any normal person would. Then one day he came home from work and never went back. He never told us why or what happened and he would become angry with us when why asked him questions and he would kick us out of his room. He started becoming more and more detached and just spent his time sleeping or watching TV. He stopped taking regular showers and gained weight. We knew there was something going on with him but like I explained before, he refused to get help. He is currently on antidepressants but he is not working and is receiving dissability. He never leaves the house except for the occasional movie night that we insist on. He is definitely more stable than he was a couple years ago but I know there are other things going on that he doesn’t talk about. Oh, another thing I’ve noticed is that he has a thing about open doors. If we leave any door opened he will immediately close it. Not sure what that’s about either.

JLeslie's avatar

@kheredia Could be so many things. Bipolar, paranoid schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive, agorophobia, severe anxiety, and any combination of those.

kheredia's avatar

@JLeslie Well I guess all we can do is hope he doen’t get any worst and keep trying to talk to him about what ever it is he has. He just really worries me sometimes.

JLeslie's avatar

@kheredia You said he receives disability. What is the disability for?

atch's avatar

Sounds like drug induced paranoia. Get him out of there before he hurts your family. He is too old to be worried about and looked after like a child. This is a grown man behaving like a damn lunatic. I know he is your brother, but we can’t choose our family. It’s is better to get him away in a padded room where he can talk to himself and pace around nervously comtemplating crazy shit without having to worry about the safety of OTHERS.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

A person with seriously disordered thinking and behaviour may initially be suspected of having a mental disorder by people close to them. Without suitable assessment and treatment these people end up isolated from family and former friends and ultimately come to the attention of law enforcement and/or social service agencies.

A person who really has schizophrenia will not have to tell anyone their diagnosis. If they refuse assessment, treatment and follow-up, their desire to remain unnoticed will fail as their behaviour, delusions and hallucinations become increasingly disruptive and troublesome to more and more people around them.

gr8teful's avatar

Schizophrenia or any serious Mental Illness is a horrible thing to have to live with for the person and their family.It is not a person’s fault if they were born Schizophrenic that is why out of compassion I really believe a person with Schizophrenia should have as much right to an assisted suicide as a person with a terminal illness,If this is their choice.

Nuts's avatar

Schizophrenia and/or psychosis symptoms are so widely ranged, that the fact he doesn’t hear voices doesn’t mean he’s not schizophrenic/psychotic. Hearing voices is a very common symptom, though.

Is he delusional (does he believe in something that is not true or “insane”)? For example he might think he’s got some paranormal abilities or he might think he is somehow connected with an animal or some thing in his surrounding. He might think his mind is broadening around the room or whole world :) These things might be the cause why he is “staring at the walls”.

If he talks to himself and talks without sense – that’s actually one of the core symptoms. But I’m not a psychiatrist nor medical professional.

You should definitely talk with his doctor.

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