Dealing with Friends Who Are Mentally Ill
Dear Margo: Is there a point where clinical paranoia can become dangerous? There’s a 10-year friendship on the line. Her paranoia is pretty well known to many of her friends, but we love her. However, when her suspicions go from “there’s a camera in my smoke detector” to “I was surrounded by kids in the store, and I’m pretty sure they sprayed chemicals on me as part of a church conspiracy to poison me,” then it’s hard to be around her. The problem is she can’t accept how illogical her notions are. She thinks doctors euthanized her mother, who had broken her hip, was bed-bound and died of a blood clot.
Now, she has befriended someone new who is openly hostile and gossipy. I think as long as people don’t get along, my friend feels safe. I told her I need to be away from her and her new friend, who I think she is using to get back at me for joining her church — the one that is poisoning her. She thinks my decision to take a time-out is blackmail, but actually, I’m just tired of the drama. I am tired of hearing stories about poison, and I’m worried that her passive-aggressive behavior, anger and paranoia may cause her to act out. I don’t know where to turn. — Worn Down
Dear Worn: Yes, there is a point when paranoia can become dangerous, most often with paranoid schizophrenics. What would be most useful is to see to it that she is under the care of a mental health professional. But of course, you can’t make this happen. And it doesn’t sound as if she is medicated, although medications are not always effective.
If this woman has no one closer to her than the friends (i.e., family), you are pretty much out of luck unless she demonstrates that she is a danger to herself or others, in which case the police are the first responders. I can tell you that it will be extremely difficult for you to convince her that you are not spying on her. Also, as you indicated, it will be difficult for you to convince her to get help on her own. Despite this, you should keep trying to convince her to seek help, but if there is strong resistance, I suggest you extend the time-out. Friends can only do so much when there is mental illness involved. — Margo, realistically
When Animals Can Be Therapeutic
Dear Margo: I’ve been suffering from depression for quite some time and am working hard to get through this difficult time. I’ve been seeing a psychiatrist, but I find myself still struggling. What I’d really like to do is get a dog. A dog would help me get out of the house and give me a companion. The problem is that the apartment where I live does not allow dogs. I’m stuck in a lease, so moving isn’t an option. Is there such a thing as a service animal for people with depression? I know there are laws that allow service dogs to live and go where others are not allowed. — Just Need Some Company
Dear Just: Because you mentioned the state in which you live, I was able to look up the statute — though they are pretty uniform throughout the country. A dog for a depressed person would be considered a “therapy dog.” Service dogs require a determination of a disability, and they are trained to do particular tasks. The legal definition of a service dog specifically eliminates animals that are used for emotional support or comfort.
Here’s what I would suggest. Ask your psychiatrist to write a note to whoever runs your apartment building, saying a small dog would be beneficial to your mental health. Should this exception not be granted, I would recommend getting a cat. You could take him or her to the park on a leash — which I have seen. Also, a girlfriend who was recently widowed was saved from total despair by getting a cat that, fortunately, has a lot of personality and, I suspect, thinks he’s a dog. I hope one of these options works out for you. — Margo, supportively
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