The Personal is Political
This situation highlights some societal issues that I feel obligated to point out. Other letter writers have addressed many of the practical issues already.
As Salon articles have previously made clear, our society has chosen to err on the side of freedom and independence and make it very hard to get psychiatric help for even obviously, severely mentally ill people. This was a reaction to previous laws that were too lax and enabled abuse by families and professionals. Currently, family members living with a severely mentally ill person can be in real danger but unless they can present proof to a court they may very well not be able to do anything about it.
Our laws need an overhaul. At the very least, someone who has demonstrated obvious symptoms of being out of touch with reality ought to be hospitalized until they are lucid, no longer paranoid, and can make informed decisions about further care. A court review after 30 days (or suitable time) can insure that they are not being railroaded or abused, with follow up monitoring if they are not yet stable. Anyone who cares about this issue can and should write to their representatives at state and federal levels.
I understand that many if not all psych meds have debilitating side effects. (Who wants to drool? Anyone?) We desperately need better meds and/or treatments. I hope in time we will.
Mentally ill parents, especially primary caregivers who are usually mothers, have little or no support if they become unable to provide adequate care for their children. There is also deep shame for them if they admit this! Again, we have failed as a society to address this issue.
My heart goes out to the letter writer and her siblings. I lived with a deeply depressed and suicidal single mom from age 13 to age 16, when I fled home to join the Hare Krishna movement. Locally no foster homes were available for me, only an institution known as the "county home" which was kind of like being sent to juvie without having committed any crime. The temple was a far better option. My extended family actually told me, at age 13, that I should take care of my mother and that if I asked to be placed outside the home I would be responsible if she committed suicide!
It should also be easier for teens with mentally ill or unsuitable parents to be emancipated. Often that is one of the best options for them.
Sometimes, all that may be needed is extra help at home by a team of professionals, including a social worker, housekeeper, or others. That could be more cost effective for counties than providing foster care and might help keep semi-functional families together.
I agree with those who say check in with the brother before taking any action and see what he feels is best for him. Sometimes social service interventions aren't all that much better and could leave him cut off from his social support system. I wouldn't have gotten through my teen years without my friends!
To sjohntucson: please don't beat yourself up. No one issues a guide book for dealing with a crazy parent! The professionals were the ones responsible for over-medicating your mother, if indeed that was the problem. (The deterioration could have been organic in nature and no one's fault.) We are taught to respect doctors' authority. This is yet another problem in our society. We need to start viewing doctors and other health professionals as consultants and question their advice rather than just passively take it in. Please have some compassion for yourself, having been put in such a painfully difficult situation. You may still find healing from this painful past.
In solidarity with all the other children of mentally ill parents (Hi Allie!) (And hey, if the ACAs have books and groups, where's ours?)