culture & community health relationships & love

What To Do About Dad

by Kate — June 11, 2012


About 2 months ago I started looking into what it would take to get my father committed.

It wasn’t any one event that made me do this – just that finally, after years of swapping stories about it, a way of monitoring , I began to seriously wonder if he was mentally ill.  He’d never been a stable person – moody, prone to sudden, unexpected and violent rages.  However he’d been a reasonably successful professional for years, owned property, belonged to the Rotary Club.   He was  also deeply religious.  At his last visit he had told me, with a (crazy? Religious?) gleam in his eye, that he had healed the broken leg of a woman by using his special powers.  God had gifted him with these special powers.  He believed this was because he had never taken any drugs.

One day my mother came home to find that he’d smashed all her garden ornaments into pieces because they were ‘idols’.  She caught him just as he was taking her china figurines outside to do the same thing.  I don’t know what was said: I have to imagine it because I live in Canada now and they both live still in NZ.  Did she yell at him?  I wonder what words she used to convince him that her figurines weren’t idols, to break through that religious mania.

The Mental Health Act defines mental disorder as:
an abnormal state of mind shown by delusions or disorders of
mood, perception, volition or cognition;
this abnormal state of mind means that either:
— there is a serious danger to your health and safety, or the
health and safety of another person; or
— your ability to care for yourself is seriously reduced..

It was hard not to admire the creativity of his madness, if it was madness.  Around the time of the idol-smashing incident he had developed a fascination with ancient Judaism and the Old Testament.  He believed strongly that God had told him he was Jewish.  He sent me long emails explaining I had to ignore whatever I’d been told about our family past: we were Jewish, really Jewish, and as the first born I was especially important to God.  He broke down and recreated a Bible that made our family the centre, and him the most special person of all.

include holding false beliefs, for example, believing that you are related to
royalty when you are not. Disorders include:
disorders of mood, for example, being very depressed or on a “high”;
disorders of perception, for example, hearing voices or seeing things
that no-one else is able to hear or see;

I talked it over with my sister.  Dad had never been treated for mental illness – ever.  I started wondering aloud to her if it was time.    Neither my sister nor my mother were in a position to do anything, so I started to wonder if I should.  My biggest concern was that Dad would do something violent or unpredictable.  He’d proven he could be both.  He had access to guns – he was a hunter, like any good Kiwi farmer.

What is a serious danger?
Serious danger has a wide meaning and includes danger to your physical or
mental health or safety, or danger to the physical or mental health or safety
of any other person.

My first stop was the Ministry of Health website.  All the excerpts on this page are taken from a pdf about the Mental Health Act of 1992. (Link below).

I began by looking into the steps it would take to get him assessed.

The application to have you assessed must be in writing and include this
• why the person making the application thinks you have a
mental disorder;
• what their relationship to you is, for example, friend or GP;
• a statement that they have seen you in the last three days;
• a medical certificate from a doctor who has examined you in
the last three days. The medical certificate must say there are
reasonable grounds for believing you have a mental disorder.

With me in Canada and him in NZ at least some of these requirements were impossible.  That was that, then….but there was another issue.  Both my sister and mother pointed out that my father was part of prayer groups of people that shared some of his beliefs.  They would sit in the Food Court of the local mall and pray loudly for people’s souls.  They believed in demons, and that people who struggled with drugs and alcohol were demonized, and would drive around the city at night, helping drunk people and releasing demons from them.  My father insisted that God had gifted him with this ability as well.  My sister pointed out there were entire websites devoted to this belief system.  In other words, if I were to try and get him committed, would his co-religionists try and stop it?

Are there some things that can never be called a mental disorder?
You cannot be considered to have a mental disorder just because of your:
• political, religious or cultural beliefs;

I’m still not sure.  I sway.  I’m uncertain.  Is it that he has a mental illness but it’s buttressed by the religion he’s taken on?  Or is he just religious?

I really don’t know.

For more reading about the Mental Health Act of New Zealand, please click on the link below.

Mental Health Act – 1992, New Zealand


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  • Nifferdesign

    I’ve only very lightly had to consider what happens with my gently aging parents if there comes a time when they are no longer able to live on their own. I only know that it’s quite overwhelming to consider that one day I may have to make decisions for the same people I still turn to when I need advice. I can’t imagine how it feels to have a parent behaving in such a disturbing manner, especially being so far away and feeling quite helpless to do anything. I hope you and your family find a way to work through all of this.

  • wendy

    If only assessing mental health was as clear-cut as evaluating physical health—the ambiguity can be paralyzing. I, too, hope you find the clarity and strength to make the best decision for your family.

  • Cheney

    You say that your mother and sister aren’t in a position to do anything – is this because they don’t believe there’s a serious problem, or that they don’t know what to do about it?

    If your mother is also worried about your father’s behaviours and doesn’t believe that he would voluntarily see a doctor, she could always make herself an appointment with a counsellor, psychologist, or a doctor who is well versed in mental health. This way, she could discuss her worries with a professional and get some advice on the next steps to take. It would also mean that if your father’s behaviour did escalate, there’d be a paper trail established.

    Good luck with everything – this doesn’t sound like an easy situation.

    • Kate

      HI Cheney,

      Sorry it’s taken me so long to respond.

      My sister is estranged from my parents, more or less. My mother is not a well person herself. She says she’s tried to bring it up with their family doctor but he/she won’t respond – probably due to patient confidentiality. She does not deal well with difficult situations.

      Thanks for the good wishes.

  • Vaneea

    This is more than just mental illness. I think it is a very very touchy subject since it has something to do with personal belief.

    To be honest with you, we are having a problem with one of my aunts. She’s really into this cult like Christian group. She’s too far gone into it. Beyond help. She really believed crazy stuff that I feel very very sorry for her. She gave me, my husband and my pastor individual written revelations from God right before we got married. She dragged my mom into it. Yeah, my mom threw out ALL of the teddy bears I collected while I was away in college. Even attempted to torched my Harry Potter books earlier this year. They call my baby “the chosen one”. Here comes the worst… they have been forcing my grandma to follow them. My grandma is not influenced however.

    The list of oddities is endless.

    Dear you are not alone! My sister and I are going through the same thing as you, in double dose. By any means, email me if you need an extra pair of ears (I guess eyes).

  • Kate

    Thanks all. I’m feeling bad because I thought I had replied to your comments but it appears the post didn’t ‘take’.

    I’ve just come back from a trip to NZ. I”m fairly sure my Dad does have a mental illness (my guess would be depression) but I’m also fairly sure his beliefs are real and backed up by other people so, that’s that. There’s nothing to indicate that he needs to be committed. He’s still able to operate in the real world somewhat, even if his idea of relating to others is to quote from the Bible or lecture about how people with heart problems are cursed by the Masons. Or drive without glasses because God cured his short sightedness. Yikes.

    Cheney, you brought up some good questions. In short my sister is not interested in dealing with the situation and I understand why. My mother isn’t a mentally well person herself so, yeah. Fair questions though.

    Vaneea, thanks for your thoughts. It does sound like we are dealing with a similar thing!