In my parents’ era, kids were often out of the house and working at age eighteen or away in college. As the decades have rolled forward, more and more young adults live at home, usually for financial reasons. There is also a phrase, “failure to launch” which is mostly ascribed to young men who have a difficult time gaining independence.

With economic downturns, such as in 2008, multi-generational households have become quite common. With the COVID-19/ Economic Lock Down, for sure we will see even more young people living at home for some time to come.

There is a unique set of circumstances when a mentally ill person lives at home with their parents or other family members.   This is a person who may not be able to financially support themselves, not because of the economy, but because of their own inability to get or stay employed.  This person may even be able to support themselves, but still not able to live safely on their own.  To be clear, there are some mentally ill people who can function well in an intellectual capacity, but their day to day social skills, medication management and self-care may need monitoring or support. One friend has a daughter with schizophrenia, who is a pharmacologist and capable of supporting herself most of the time. She has had a history of getting fired from her jobs and periodically needs to live at home.

This is a double-edged sword for many family members because one would think that living with your own loving family would assist in the best chance for functional recovery.  But this is not always the case.  Many family members witness their loved one isolating in their childhood bedroom, rarely leaving except to use the bathroom.  Some people have even asked that their meals be brought to their bedroom so they do not have to interact with others even at meal time.

In one case with a friend of mine, her seriously mentally ill son was living with the father who was partially in denial about the seriousness of his own son’s state.  It got to the point where the son was refusing food and then it became a medical emergency.  The son was starving himself and eventually hospitalized with a collapsed lung.  The reason he was refusing food had to do with his schizophrenia and pervasive delusions.

Parents of those with mental illness are often accused of being “co-dependent” which is a term popularized through the 12-Step programs.  Co-dependent people are considered ‘enablers.”  They unintentionally may perpetuate their loved one’s struggle even as they are trying to rescue or protect their son or daughter from a worse fate.

The blunt truth is that there are not a lot of great housing options for people with schizophrenia.  The best ones are privately funded and often unaffordable to most.  State licensed Board and Cares are often poorly managed, poorly supervised, and in dilapidated buildings. They are typically not in the safest neighborhoods either.  Often, there are unavoidable circumstances in Board and Cares which are counter-productive to helping the disabled person get better.

When a mentally ill person lives at home, it may be possible to provide them with support in a variety of ways, such as with regular therapy and even “peer support” who can provide companionship, transportation, and social outlets. This is especially important when parents are working and not able to make caretaking a full time job.

When a mentally ill person becomes unstable and threatening, the parents must make the hard decision to either get their loved one hospitalized or moved to a residential facility which can deal with the on-going needs of the person with schizophrenia or low functioning bi-polar disorder.  Because mentally ill people can have relapses, they may go back and forth between living at home, spending time in a psychiatric hospital, a Board and Care or even a Sober Living House since dual diagnosis is very common.  Some people can remain stable as long as they don’t take recreational drugs, but that is a major challenge which can undermine just about all progress.

Author: Kartar Diamond,  Mental Illness Advocate & Author of Noah’s Schizophrenia: A Mother’s Search for Truth