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What to do with threatening neighbors displaying mental illness?
Over the course of many years, the Schererville police department has received hundreds of calls from a troubled female resident who has threatened her neighbors, claiming they are spying on her. Her neighbors and passersby have contacted police, too. (Jerry Davich, Post-Tribune)
The nondescript home blends in like another pretty flower in a well-watered garden bed.
Its lawn is manicured. Its bushes are trimmed. The single-level house appears well maintained like most other homes in this middle-class Schererville neighborhood.
On the evening I visited, it was quiet, serene, uneventful. But neighbors, and police, know differently. Over the course of many years, the female owner of the home has called police hundreds of times. Her neighbors and passers-by have contacted police too.
She claims neighbors are watching and spying on her. She displays sudden outbursts when people walk by her corner home. She's been known to blow a whistle at them, scream at them, and posts signs in her windows with a similar warning. She's troubled with signs of mental illness.
"She can seem calm and friendly at one moment, then turn into a screaming, threatening lunatic," said one of her neighbors who contacted me. "If you saw this lady, you would think she's totally harmless. But when she yells, it's at the top of her lungs. It's scary."
This neighbor is a middle-aged man with a wife and two teenage children. The entire family is scared to death of this woman. Other neighbors are too. So much so that they're also scared of releasing their names for this column.
"I really don't want to agitate her," the neighbor told me. "I see her every day even though I try hard to avoid her."
Another neighbor whispered to me, "No comment. But she's crazy."
This is a loaded word these days. What exactly is "crazy" and what can be done about someone who acts this way yet who has not caused violence to herself or others, yet?
"The red flags are there and it's really just a matter of time when someone will be in the wrong place at the wrong time when (the woman) takes out the voices in her head on an innocent bystander," the male neighbor said. "It's inevitable."
I mentioned a personal visit to this woman, who's in her 50s, to see things from her point of view and get a better feel for the situation.
"I highly suggest you don't do that, for your own safety," the neighbor insisted.
Seriously? Schererville police chief David Dowling agreed.
He confirmed that this woman has contacted his department many times off and on through the years. His officers are familiar with her calls, her claims, her outbursts. No charges have ever been filed, no arrests made, no fines or other punishment.
"We've never had anything violent or dangerous with her and we feel somewhat comfortable that she is not a threat to others," Dowling said. "We've done a variety of things through the years, even talking with her family."
The woman's neighbor who contacted me wasn't aware of her irrational and frightening behavior until the first day of his kids' school year in 2014. As he leaned against his car parked near her home, waiting for a school bus, the woman approached him.
"Hey, you gotta problem with me?" she asked repeatedly and threateningly.
She marched up to him with fists clenched, asking why he was spying on her, he recalled. She pointed toward the nearby bus stop, where other parents waited while holding their phones, claiming they were taking photos of her.
"I froze and couldn't believe what I was experiencing," he told me.
She's been on his radar ever since. Several months ago, he noticed three police cars outside her home, not just the one squad car as usual. This piqued his concern and his worries for his family's safety.
He did some poking around with help from another neighbor with young children. They learned that a mental health agency contacted police for a wellness check that day, a police report stated. She was again hearing voices in her head and tried battling them with a broomstick, according to the report.
"This screams to me, threat to the public," he said.
Police don't agree. The woman hasn't harmed herself or others so there's nothing they can do, they told me. She's not suicidal or homicidal. Adult Protective Services also has visited the woman but concluded they can't do anything to help the situation, police said.
"We can usually defuse the situation by letting her talk," said Cmdr. Brian Neyhart, who's dealt with her a few times.
Last week, on the first day of school for the neighbor's son, the boy walked to the woman's corner and waited for his bus.
"She ran out of her house and blew her whistle several times really loud," the boy's father told me. "She told my son to get off her property or she was going to kill him."
The boy's mother heard this and ran over to protect her son. The woman threatened her too.
"This time it took a darker turn. She actually threatened my son's and wife's lives," the neighbor said.
A police report was filed.
"They said nothing can be done unless she actually touched us," he said.
Police suggested filing a protective court order, which he did although it didn't fit the typical criteria — such as domestic abuse, child custody or sexual violence. It was denied by a judge.
"We are living in fear that something bad is going to happen here," he said. "She is getting worse."
He also questions whether things would be handled differently if the neighbor were a man, not a woman.
He plans to continue his efforts to file a protective order, and to contact lawmakers about new legislation regarding the sharing of incident reports between police, mental health agencies and the public.
"The police can't do anything and the courts won't do anything," he said. "So in the meantime we are left to fend for ourselves, constantly being vigilant, just waiting for that moment to come when she really does hurt someone."
So this is what it has come to?
With so many lethal outbursts taking place in society today, this family has every right to be concerned, even scared. Does this woman own a gun? Will the voices in her head instruct her to harm her neighbors? What agency, if any, can do anything until she possibly snaps in a violent way?
"We have to be careful what we say or release about her because having mental issues isn't against the law," Dowling said. "She has some obvious issues and if something happens to elevate our efforts, we'll do that then."
Neyhart noted that the main problem for police departments is the lack of mental health resources for people with such "obvious issues."
"Years ago there were facilities that would take people with these situations," he said. "That's no longer the case. Our hands are tied."
Dowling noted, "This is one of the more challenging aspects of law enforcement today in our country."
The woman's neighbor contacted me to shed light on his issue — but also the bigger issue.
"My neighbor could be anybody's neighbor," he said.
This, we all can agree, is the scariest aspect of this issue.
- Main content
How To Deal With A Neighbor Who's Driving You Insane
Like burglaries and roof leaks, every co-op has one sooner or later: A mentally unstable resident whose behavior is anywhere from annoying, to scary, to downright dangerous.
The fix is rarely quick. Police take little interest in nuisance matters, and eviction of a mentally unstable resident is usually not the first solution embraced by a housing court judge.
With diligence and patience, however, it’s usually to get unstable residents the support they need.
Here’s what to do—and what not to:
1 . Don’t wait until a little problem becomes a big one: Long before a change in medication transforms a slightly eccentric neighbor into a knife-wielding bully, make sure your building has updated emergency contact information for each resident. Send out a request for updated emergency contact information every few years. Also, your board should articulate a policy for managing problems with unstable residents, such as a series of steps along the lines outlined in this post.
2 . Document the problem: A clear paper trail is priceless in convincing a family member, housing court judge or Adult Protective Services (APS) to step in. Are there written security reports by building staff--or better yet, police reports--confirming that Mr. 9B was indeed escorted from the lobby unclothed and belligerent three weeks in a row?
3. Communicate with affected neighbors: Explain that a solution won’t arrive overnight. Their cooperation is essential to create a paper trail, and they may need to overcome feelings of pity, compassion or fear and call the police or testify in court.
4. Family first: About 50 percent of the time, co-ops successfully locate a family member willing or able to intervene and bring resources to find a solution, whether it be a home health aide, a change in medication, or a thorough and ongoing apartment decluttering. If the problem is truly severe, oftentimes family is the only expeditious way to relocate the tenant to more appropriate supportive housing.
5. Don’t shy away from housing court: If a family solution is elusive, help can often be obtained from APS. Typically, however, APS will act only when the resident is facing eviction, so housing court is a necessary stop, with an action for eviction based on nuisance or, if appropriate, non-payment of maintenance charges.
An eviction action can also do wonders in eliciting action by the resident or reluctant family members. (Note to condo boards: Housing court jurisdiction does not extend to condos; they must fend for themselves in the more expensive, slow, and condo-unfriendly State Supreme Court.)
Housing court is also a useful tool for ongoing monitoring and control of a problem: The shareholder enters into a probationary stipulation, agreeing not to engage in the problematic behavior for some period of time--usually one or two years--and if the problem returns, the matter can be immediately brought to court. This gives the co-op a prompt means of dealing with the problem without starting an entirely new case.
6. Understand the limits of government help In theory, if the situation warrants it, APS can petition the court to appoint a guardian who can literally come in and take charge of an unstable resident’s affairs—hiring help, surrendering the apartment, and requesting services.
Two types of guardians can be appointed.
A 'guardian ad litem' is typically appointed in housing court matters. This type of guardian represents the interest of the tenant-shareholder only in the specific housing court case. A guardian at litem is usually instrumental in resolving the problem and tends to be successful in securing APS services.
The second type of guardian--an 'Article 81' guardian--has much broader authority and can handle all the legal, financial and personal affairs of an incapacitated person. Because this guardianship more substantially interferes with personal rights, it can take months or years to appoint an Article 81 guardian--an unviable option in most housing court cases.
Rather than appoint a guardian at all, many times courts order specific services, such as a full apartment-clean out in a hoarding situation. This is where probationary measures (see #5 above) can be helpful.
This post originally appeared on BrickUnderground .
Now see 7 tips for people who want to buy their first home >
OPINION: What to do with threatening neighbors displaying mental illness? Readers share their frightening situations.
Mar. 21—Do you have dangerous neighbors who frighten you, threaten you or provoke concerns of mental illness? Have you had to contact police about your situation? Were you forced to move away or alter your daily actions?
"We have a neighbor who is very unstable and shows signs of mental illness," said Gabe V., of Lombard, Illinois . "Just yesterday, he threatened me in the alley with a snow shovel and I had to call the police department. Their response is that nothing can be done unless the neighbor does something threatening or unlawful on my property. As long as he's on his property, he can basically do anything he wants."
Gabe is one of dozens of readers from across the country who stumbled onto my 2015 column about a mentally unbalanced woman in Schererville accused of frightening neighbors with threats, outbursts and repeated calls to police. For that column, I used only two words in the descriptor for online searches: "dangerous neighbors." That's all it took.
"I just read your article from 2015. This is shockingly similar to experiences my husband and I have had over the past year and a half with our neighbor," wrote Stephanie S., from Champaign, Illinois . "She's prone to violent outbursts not only with us, but with other members of our homeowners association, and members of bordering HOAs."
"We have exhausted everything we know to do, including contacting previous employers, YMCA member services, etc., to find an emergency contact or anyone who might be able to help," she wrote. "The police have been involved on multiple occasions, but they tell us there's nothing they can do."
She and her husband filed for an order of protection but charges were not pursued due to their neighbor's mental illness, she said. "Even with pages of documented incidents and a flash drive of audio/video evidence. Yet she persists. We are at our wit's end."
Readers from Florida to California experienced situations with their neighbors similar to the Schererville homeowner I wrote about. Her nondescript home blends in like another pretty flower in a well-watered garden bed. Its lawn is manicured. Its bushes are trimmed. The home appears well maintained like most other homes in her middle-class neighborhood.
Nonetheless, over the course of many years, the female homeowner has called police hundreds of times, claiming neighbors are watching and spying on her. She displays sudden outbursts when people walk by her home. She's been known to blow a whistle at them, scream at them and posts signs in her windows with a similar warning.
"She can seem calm and friendly at one moment, then turn into a screaming, threatening lunatic," one of her neighbors told me. "If you saw this lady, you would think she's totally harmless. But when she yells, it's at the top of her lungs. It's scary."
The town's police chief confirmed that this woman has contacted his department many times off and on through the years. His officers are familiar with her calls, her claims, her outbursts. No charges have ever been filed, no arrests made, no fines or other punishment. "We've never had anything violent or dangerous with her and we feel somewhat comfortable that she is not a threat to others," he said. "We've done a variety of things through the years, even talking with her family."
The headline of my 2015 column asked a difficult question: "What to do with threatening neighbors displaying mental illness?" Readers reached out to me for solutions, and to let me know this is not an isolated case only in one community.
"I wondered if you might have any connections or resources to help us find an emergency contact for our neighbor, to get her some help," a reader from Texas wrote. "We're desperate for assistance."
They must be desperate if they're contacting a newspaper columnist in Indiana for emergency contact connections in Texas .
"This person IS my neighbor, shared fence and everything," wrote Percy C. from Michigan . "He's cussed out everyone on the street as far as 5 doors down and his poor wife back her car into their driveway to avoid seeing us. I'm trying to work out some plan for sanity over her without going the courtroom route."
"My family and I are going through this right now," wrote Karla D., of Hartford, Connecticut . "She calls police, fire dept., and Department of Child Services to make false allegations. My family is being harassed and threatened. The police does nothing and we are terrified."
Mr. Davich , I would swear you had interviewed me and my neighbors in South Florida , who live one townhouse door away from a Very Scary Neighbor with a Serious Mental Illness," wrote a woman who signed off as "Hostage in South Florida ."
"We are literally being held hostage in our home 23 hours a day for the last 7 years by her increasingly bizarre behaviors," she wrote. "She poisoned and killed my son's therapy Labrador, and has tried to run my son over with her car too many times to count. The police point their finger back to my HOA. Meanwhile neither is doing anything about it and we are living in daily fear for our lives."
Lorie S. of Strasburg, Virginia , wrote, "I realize your column was written years ago but I wanted to let you know it's still relevant. There is a woman on my street whose behavior has gone from annoying to frightening over last five years. Protective orders have not been granted, but a no trespassing order has brought some relief."
The latest email I received was just last week from a California woman with similar complaints. "She has the same mood swings as the neighbor you mentioned. She randomly runs around accusing people of sleeping with her husband," Katie S. wrote.
Another reader wrote, "Please let me know how the situation in Schererville turned out. I want to know if I should harbor any hope, or not."
In a column later this week, I will share an update and other readers' letters to me. Read a sampling on my Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/JerDavich/ .
(c)2022 the Post-Tribune (Merrillville, Ind.)
Visit the Post-Tribune (Merrillville, Ind.) at www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/post-tribune
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
NYC Mayor Adams signs off on laws providing mental health services at shelters, interest rates on back taxes, juvenile justice oversight
Williamsburg Health Foundation joins other foundations to provide funding for mental health care access
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Scared of Your Neighbor? What to Do
How to deal with a situation where your neighbor's behavior could be dangerous..
At some point, everyone has the experience of living near a creepy or suspicious neighbor. Sometimes it's nothing you can specifically point to; it's the neighbor's manner, the hours he or she keeps, or the emanating smells. Other times, it can be more concrete: troubling noises, anger, or actual threats against you or your family.
What should you do if you're scared of your neighbor?
Think the Best of People
Recall your high school English class when you read Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird . "Boo Radley" was a frightening character for much of the novel, a loner feared by the neighborhood. Boo is a source of terror largely because of his strange mannerisms and the mystery surrounding his past.
At the end of the novel, however, it is revealed that Boo is a supremely decent guy, playing a key role in aiding the protagonists. Before you overreact to what you perceive as your neighbor's oddness, consider that this person might simply not present well, or might come from an unfamiliar background or culture. Perhaps the neighbor has mental health issues, but is wholly nonviolent. Do not be quick to judge, especially if your neighbor's behavior isn't directly harming you.
If the neighbor appears rational and approachable, mediation might be an option before you try more extreme measures.
Of course, you will want to keep your eyes open for any behavior that crosses the line and involves actual threatening or inappropriate action.
Complain to Building Management or Neighborhood Association, If Any
If you live in an apartment building or in a community governed by a neighborhood or homeowners' association (HOA), that might be your best first stop. For example, imagine a situation where there seem to be an unsafe number of animals in the neighbor's apartment causing a ruckus, or you regularly hear screaming inside a neighbor's home.
All homeowners (or condo or townhouse owners) in an HOA must abide by detailed community rules . These might, for instance, cover what pets are allowed, and include noise limits. It's entirely appropriate for the HOA management or neighborhood association to intervene, addressing the neighbor's conduct while leaving you out of it.
Call the Police If the Neighbor Is Placing You in Danger
In a situation where you have reasonable, immediate fear of your neighbor, particularly if the person makes physical threats or engages in any actual violence or property damage, gather any evidence you have of the issues and call the police . A knock on the door from law enforcement might be the best means of sending your neighbor the message to stay away from you and your family.
Keep in mind, however, that once the police respond to your call, they might have you fill out a report. Your neighbor is then likely to learn that you were the person who complained. The more independent evidence you can provide, such as photos of dangerous activity by your neighbor, the less personal involvement you might need to have in the case.
Consider Whether a Lawsuit Is Appropriate
Going to court could be an option, for example with a nuisance claim. However, it seems unlikely that a private lawsuit between you and your neighbor would address the issues here.
Courts tend to be most effective for money damages. Your neighbor might not have harmed you in a quantifiable, financial way, but rather in an emotional way, by creating fear.
Strategize Based on How Long the Situation Will Likely Last
What's ahead for you and your neighbor? The long-term outlook and your corresponding strategy will depend on whether you and your neighbor are owners or renters.
If your neighbor owns the property, and you're merely a renter, the situation might factor into your decision about renewing your lease. If you're in a multi-unit building, particularly in a large city, you might be able to consider creative alternatives with your management company. It might be willing to let you switch apartments in the same building. You might be able to convince the company to allow you to pay a little extra to move apartments even before your lease expires. This would allow both you and your neighbor to live in peace, but farther away from one another.
If you are a homeowner, the matter could be more complicated. In the worst case, you might consider selling your home. Realize, however, that depending on your state's laws, you might need to disclose any material problems to prospective purchasers. A difficult neighbor could unfortunately reduce the value of your property.
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I’m worried about my neighbour who has mental health problems – what can I do to help?
In a new series Poppy Noor discusses an issue concerning how we can build happy, well-run communities. But what do you think? Send us your thoughts and responses
My neighbour has obvious mental health issues, is there anything I can do to help rather than calling the police?
I see this question a lot, so I’m glad you’ve asked it. You say your neighbour’s mental health problems are obvious, but I’m not sure what this means. I assume by your mention of the police that their behaviour is worrying or antisocial. Rachel Boyd, information manager at Mind , warns against making assumptions: “We should be conscious about equating dangerous behaviours with mental health problems. One in four people have mental health problems, which don’t necessarily manifest themselves in concerning ways.”
You want to be supportive without being meddlesome, which is refreshing and responsible. Don’t overthink it. If you are worried about your neighbour or others, you should call the police, regardless of whether you suspect they are having problems with their mental health.
The rest depends on your relationship. If you don’t know your neighbour, open up a discussion: “People worry about the right approach, but often it’s simple. Say hello and ask how they are,” says Boyd. Trying not to make assumptions is important and you should also respect their privacy. If someone’s had a police visit, they may feel embarrassed and visible. That’s why having a regular “how are you?” interaction can be helpful.
You should consider space carefully. “If it’s a housemate, approach gently. Have the conversation in a shared space when things are friendly and there aren’t others around,” says Boyd. But above all, even if you know them well, “Be factual. Stick to what you know, rather than what you think – saying things like, ‘I’ve noticed you don’t come out much any more’, rather than, ‘What’s wrong?’”
It’s great you are thinking about how to support your neighbour, be that through just a small interaction or something more solid. They may not want support; don’t use that against them. Boyd says: “Let them know that the offer is on the table, and will continue to be, regardless of whether or not they want to take it right now.”
- Mental health
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Mentally Ill Neighbor
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By Randy Cohen
- Aug. 7, 2009
I live in a small town and recently moved into an apartment across the street from a schizophrenic woman. She regularly accosts me, shouting insults with apparent lucidity. As far as I know, she has never been violent, but from time to time she is briefly jailed or institutionalized. Other locals treat her as a harmless nuisance, speaking to her as if she were a child, but I’d feel awkward doing that since she is twice my age. How should I respond to her? A. FLINT, MASSACHUSETTS
Assuming your amateur diagnosis is correct, you should respond courteously and briefly. As you know, you should not chide someone mentally ill for her rudeness. Nor should you call the cops, who are apt to do nothing unless she presents a danger to herself or others. But if this fails and she persists, take bolder steps. You need not put up with someone repeatedly haranguing you.
Dr. Peter Moller, who has taught classes on legal and ethical issues in psychology, suggests that you “contact the local state department of mental health to request help from a social worker.” This is excellent advice and could benefit both you and your vexing neighbor. She will be evaluated by someone with the training to determine how best to help her; you will get at least a chance to be freed of this harassment.
Dr. Kerry Sulkowicz, a clinical professor of psychiatry at N.Y.U.’s medical school, notes another aspect of this situation. He urges you to ask yourself why you feel “so awkward taking a page from the other locals’ playbook, and whether treating her in whatever way — including as if she were a child — is helpful to keep her at bay.” Sulkowicz speculates that your own conduct “has been unwittingly and paradoxically eliciting her most upsetting behavior.” He is not suggesting that you are guilty of unethical conduct. Clearly you do not intend to unsettle her — or realize you might be doing so. But his observation is worth thinking about as a possible solution to your problem and a way to gain some insight into yourself.
UPDATE: Flint moved elsewhere in the same town. He still encounters this woman, who comes into the coffee shop where he works. When she insults the customers, his co-workers firmly but courteously tell her to leave.
My husband’s sister e-mailed him and others a story filled with misinformation about the N.F.L. quarterback Kurt Warner. My husband responded with a short note and a link to the Web site Snopes.com, which amends this widely circulated tale, true in its broad outline but false in its details. The problem is that he replied not only to her but also to all her original recipients. I say that’s unkind and embarrasses her; he says those who received misinformation deserve to know. Who is right? T.N., NEW YORK
He is. Reply All is as annoying an online innovation as anything since emoticons, but it has its uses. If someone discloses a list of recipients rather than using BCC, that is tantamount to saying that all are available for a reply under the proper circumstances. (If that’s not so, the fault lies with the sender for failing to use BCC.) Thwarting the dissemination of egregious error constitutes such circumstances. Nobody’s privacy is violated. Nobody’s computer bursts into flames. At worst, the recipients are briefly inconvenienced.
To stifle a falsehood is estimable. It is only when someone — gently, courteously — corrects a factual error that we can revise our thinking. (I chant this mantra as I read each week’s e-mail from readers of this column.) The sister need not be embarrassed. We all make mistakes. A correction is not an insult; it is simply a continuation of a conversation she herself initiated. Your husband should, of course, avoid using this subject line: my idiot sister.
Neighbor worries that neighbor has mental illness
Find Your Local NAMI
Call the NAMI Helpline at
Or text "HelpLine" to 62640
NAMI medical director Ken Duckworth is consulted an advises that depending on the severity of a situation, a person can start by simply asking the neighbor, “Do you have a friend or family member I can call for you?”
In a crisis? Call or text 988.
Brian Neyhart, who's dealt with her a few times. Advertisement. Last week, on the first day of school for the neighbor's son, the boy
3. Communicate with affected neighbors: Explain that a solution won't arrive overnight. Their cooperation is essential to create a paper trail
21—Do you have dangerous neighbors who frighten you, threaten you or provoke concerns of mental illness? Have you had to contact police
If you live in an apartment building or in a community governed by a neighborhood or homeowners' association (HOA), that might be your best first stop. For
You want to be supportive without being meddlesome, which is refreshing and responsible. Don't overthink it. If you are worried about your
Call and make police report and with enough evidence, have a restraining order. Once that's in - arrests will be made when they cross that line again. me? I'll
Make a complaint to your local police department. He could be a danger to his neighbors and himself.
Assuming your amateur diagnosis is correct, you should respond courteously and briefly. As you know, you should not chide someone mentally ill
Call or text the NAMI Helpline at 800-950-6264,. or chat with us, M-F, 10 a.m. - 10 p.m. ET. In a crisis? Call or
I would try to make peace as in keep noise down, don't aggravate. Report to the police and record in a notebook any incidents yourself but just