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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