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New Jersey parent unable to help bipolar daughter

Although New Jersey parents might always feel an obligation to give advice to their adult children, state law regards an individual that has reached the age of 18 to be an adult. With that legal designation comes certain rights and responsibilities, such as the ability to vote, determine one's health care decisions, buy a car, and the obligation to file tax returns.

In the case of an 18-year-old teenager with a mental disability, however, at least one New Jersey parent believes that state law should be changed to maintain parental control, at least over health care decisions. The woman has a personal motivation: Her daughter has suffered from bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder since the age of 12. However, the daughter's symptoms did not include violent behavior that would justify court intervention. As a result, the daughter acquired the full legal rights of an adult when she turned 18.

Unfortunately, the daughter exercised her new independence by running away from home and declining treatment for her mental condition. She is now living on the street as a meth addict. She also continues to refuse help from her parents.

This story illustrates that mental conditions may substantially impair an individual's ability to think rationally, let alone perform work duties. According to data from the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately half of patients who have been diagnosed with a mental illness may lack awareness of their condition. State law may not recognize this distinction, however, affording such disabled individuals full legal rights as adults when they turn 18.

Many mental conditions manifest at an early age. According to one estimate, 75 percent of mental illness diagnoses occur in individuals under the age of 24. For that reason, parental intervention in health treatment decisions of adult children might be feasible, perhaps with financial assistance from programs such as Supplemental Security Income.

Source:, "Mental illness laws need to change," Rachel Pruchno, April 12, 2013

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