Dear Annie: I read the letter from "Speechless in Omaha," whose friend, "Sharon," wouldn't stop talking. I am a physician and also the mother of an adult son with a serious mental illness. Sharon's speech is suggestive of "pressured speech," which is a hallmark of bipolar mania or hypomania. It also could be caused by extreme anxiety, certain drugs and occasionally schizophrenia and other illnesses. The person talks rapidly, nonstop, loudly and with urgency, interrupts and is hard to interrupt, and can be tangential (off topic).
Mental illnesses commonly start in young people in their late teens or early 20s. However, people who are not severely afflicted can go undiagnosed for years, and Sharon is described as having been talkative and tangential for some time. The best thing "Speechless" can do is encourage Sharon to see a doctor. She might start by asking Sharon whether she has been under stress or feeling anxious lately.
People with mental illnesses often do not perceive that there is anything wrong with them. If "Speechless" knows her friend's doctor, informing him or her of her observations would be very helpful. Though a provider can never divulge anything about a patient without consent, it is perfectly legal and often invaluable for them to receive information about a patient. — Vermont Reader
Dear Vermont: Thank you for your expertise. Our readers were eager to weigh in on the various possibilities of dealing with Sharon. Read on for more:
From Florida: Sharon sounds like she may have ADHD. I have a friend like that: very bright, entertaining and a mouth going a mile a minute, unable to contain herself. I love her, and she drives me nuts. She now can focus more if I remind her.
Texas: There is a good possibility that Sharon is on diet pills or uppers.
Midwest: It would be better in the long run to tell Sharon the truth. She should take Sharon's hand, look directly into her eyes and say, "Do you realize that you do all of the talking and interrupt me constantly? I feel like you have no interest in me at all." This is the kindest and bravest thing to do (it's called moral courage), and it's better not to indulge her friend's greed for attention.
California: She might inquire whether Sharon has increased her coffee intake. I have seen people order a quadruple shot of espresso at a coffee store and get unbelievably chatty. That was enough for me to switch to decaf.
Ohio: There is a possibility that Sharon could be in an early stage of dementia. I have two friends who had been great conversationalists and slightly self-centered. They became more so, dominating the conversations, veering back to familiar subjects, deflecting questions to familiar ground, rarely asking questions in conversation. To continue a friendship in these situations is difficult, but it's easier if you understand the cause and limit the amount of time in each contact.
Louisiana: You should have mentioned the possibility of bipolar disorder. Sharon sounds as though she could be in the early manic phase. Other signs would include weight loss, lack of sleep and out-of-control spending.
New York: Sharon has a compulsive disorder. Maybe an intervention is necessary. Cut a piece of duct tape about 6 inches long, and the next time you see her, place the tape over her mouth with a big smile and say, "Now maybe someone else can talk for a change." If she gets angry and decides to "unfriend" you, you haven't lost much. She is too self-centered to be interested in you anyway. (Dear Readers: We don't recommend this one. — Annie)
This Classic Annie's Mailbox column was originally published in 2012. To find out more about Classic Annie's Mailbox and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit Creators Syndicate at www.creators.com.