When someone has a baby, they are diagnosed with cancer or find themselves in hospital for a range of physical illnesses they are sent flowers, the office chips in for a present and get well cards are sent. I don’t begrudge them receiving gifts, of knowing that people are thinking of them and they care enough to send something. When someone is in a mental health inpatient ward, the flowers are few and far between, if people even know you are there at all.
People want to care, I know that they do. They want to reach out but they don’t know what to do. Is someone in a mental health inpatient unit sick? If they are frequent flyers the support starts to wane, people believing that this should be over with now. The person they know was in hospital, shouldn’t they be better now? Why do they keep going back? Are they not doing treatment properly? My sister’s friend had depression and she’s fine, why aren’t you?
I remember one admission clearly, an admission where I was also referred to a CBT group. There was a mix of women, diagnoses ranging from depression to anxiety and suicidal ideation being a common theme. One woman stands out to me, she worked in an office of some description, one that needed a suit. She was scared that her work would find out where she was. She didn’t want them knowing that she was in hospital for a mental illness.
That made me the most sad, that here was a woman who for people around her appeared as a smart woman who held her shit together. Yet she bought into the stigma that surrounded mental illness. I still remember the stricken look on her face when a nurse told her that her boss was here to see her. The crestfallen expression at being found out, like she was a criminal not someone unwell. Her boss understood, flowers were sent and extra time off given. That is one of the happy stories.
Mental health is such an isolating experience. No one wants to hear about the nitty gritty of what depression is like. They don’t want to know what it’s really like to hear voices. They want the emotion, they want to be a bystander, but they don’t want to be involved.
People give up when you don’t comply to their versions of what treatment should look like. I often wonder if social media plays a much bigger role in this ‘know what’s best’ attitude. Everyone is an expert, they’ve all read an article about the miracle cures and wonder why you haven’t tried them too.
I have been dealing with being mentally unwell for 13 years. I have been in and out of hospital more times than I care to admit, sometimes a place to land for 24 hours and others much longer. I don’t want pity, I don’t think anyone really wishes for that. I just wish that we could all feel more comfortable about offering support during a mental health crisis, even if it’s a get well card or just a hand to hold. It means the world.
Do you know anyone who has spent time in a psychiatric unit? Do you wish there was more you could do?
If you have been in a unit yourself, what do you wish more people would do?
Linking up with Jess for IBOT!
I have visited a friend in a mental health facility, when she was receiving treatment for bi-polar. It was a nice facility but it made me sad- there were very few visitors.
Good point. I think it’s changing (or maybe that’s just me). I hope it is. It seems to be more openly discussed….
I don’t know anyone who has been in a psychiatric unit, but if I ever do I will heed your advice and show some support, a get well card and be there for them.
I think people are ‘scared’ of mental illness as it doesn’t come in a neatly tied package like other illnesses. It can’t be defined as a whole as every person suffers differently. Also due to the stigma of past treatments of mental illness people see ‘crazy’ rather than real people so it doesn’t compute in their head. Of course this needs to change. The more we talk about the normality of mental illness the better. The more those suffering speak out, the better. But it’s going to be a long process over many years. But at least the conversation has started. x
I dont know anyone who has been in for a psychiatric stay, but I know people who have been in after suicide attempts. You are right, there are no flowers. We had dread, and wished that he could be kept in longer, because we were scared.
There is still way too much stigma attached, and people whisper about it instead of cluck sympathetically. I hope that I could be bigger than that, as I have family members very prone to depression.
I think the main reason people back away is that they’re scared that if they say the wrong thing or act in a certain way, that might trigger a worse response in the person who has a mental illness.
I have personally known quite a few people who were at times, admitted for their symptoms. I must admit I never really, truly understood mental health issues until I recently sought help for the crappy anxiety I finally faced up to.
Tegan I think this is such an important message. In its simplicity it is the one thing we all easily forget when it comes to mental illness ” I just wish that we could all feel more comfortable about offering support during a mental health crisis, even if it’s a get well card or just a hand to hold. It means the world.”
I think if we each try to change then maybe as a collective society we can change this?
Beautiful post xx
I don’t know of anyone who has been hospitalized, but hope if I did I would be able to offer support. I guess part of the issue is not knowing what to say , so many would opt to say nothing. There seem to be more initiatives online and mainstream media to highlight mental health issue which I think is a small step towards getting rid of the stigma attached to mental health issues. Unfortunately, change can be slow. Good on you for putting your own story out there, I’m sure there are a lot of people who relate.
I’ve had family in mental health units before – for a couple of months at a time. It’s hard for them being in there, trying to recover, doing the hard yards in group and personal therapy and just trying to find a new normal in one of the most non-normal environments you can find yourself in. As a family member, I dd find it confronting at times when visiting and felt utterly helpless when it came to offering practical support for them. It’s so very hard for everyone involved and it’s even sadder that hospitalisation for mental illness is not treated the same as hospitalisation for other medical conditions.
I don’t have experience with people I know in person having been in a mental health unit, so that does make it hard to relate. I would also have questions about what is allowed and what gifts wouldn’t be allowed – genuinely I have no idea what would be appropriate.
I can understand the “better” issue – people are always asking me if my husband is “feeling better” or say “but he looked fine last time I saw him”. And he may have been having a good day. But four years on, we are still fighting for a diagnosis – all we know is whatever it is, it will be chronic, we just want to know what it is so that we can manage it together.
Health is not a zero-sum game. It is grey. It has more shades of grey than shades of grey exist.
I’m sorry that more people are not supportive of you. It must be such a difficult thing to go through each time. I probably wouldn’t send a gift, but I would offer words of support, a shoulder to lean on and unlimited coffee and cake dates!
Most of my friends who’ve spent time IP have been folks who don’t live near me. Where possible, I remind them I care and that I’m thinking of them — pre, post and during hospitalisation.
For myself, like you, I’ve spent a lot of time in there. I’ve also spent a fair bit of time on medical wards for mental health related things (including 3-4 days at a time for wound treatment), and it was the same deal. Most of the time, I had no visitors, no outpouring of support. Friends who didn’t live nearby understood and supported where they could, but they were in the same boat I’m in when they go in.
Once, though. I was in for a skin graft for treatment of self harm, and a friend of mine sent a gift basket. Nothing too fancy — some chocolates, a teddy and a small flower arrangement — but just a little thing to say “I’m thinking of you and I care. I’ve never forgotten how much that basket meant. I cried for two solid hours after I found it in my room, once the surgery had been completed (the flowers had been removed of course, because those aren’t allowed on the burns ward, but still) because that kindness reached such a sore place in my heart.
These days, I have a bit more support when I have to go into hospital. My partner visits me and brings me my phone and other things I need — including my dog, when I’m allowed for a wander off the ward — or want. It’s still a lonely place, but it’s not as lonely.
For anyone wondering what sort of gifts are appropriate to give someone who is inpatient for psychiatric reasons, here are some ideas. Many of these are the same sort of things you would give people in hospital for other reasons–
A simple card that says you care. Soft toys. Warm and comfy socks. Books. Crosswords, sudoku and other puzzle books that suit the person’s interests. Felt pens and a colouring book (if they don’t have this already — pencils might be appropriate too, but check whether there are sharpeners available to the person). A favourite drink/food item (seriously, bless the dear folk who bring me a cold bottle of Coke Zero and a chocolate bar). Artwork or photographs they can put around their bed to help them feel safe and more at home. Flowers.
But honestly? The best gift of all is your clear and caring support.
Hi Tegan, as a nurse, I have found the mental health sector the most confronting and the most unpredictable. People fear what we don’t understand. Unfortunately, in WA, we have had 2-3 mental health nurses injured at work when a patient has assaulted them while on duty. It always makes the news which I believe ignites it further but not in a good way. Mental illness also is a huge umbrella term for a number of chronic conditions so everyone is tarred with the same brush. Again mental illness is an unseen, chronic condition that people have a hard time coping with and addressing. Good on you for continuing to change the way we see this condition xx
Such a simple yet important message Tegan. You are right even just holding someones hand can help so much. Lovely post x
What a sad post Tegan – I can really sense your isolation and understand how a simple card or thoughtful gift would be such a lift. When my grandmother was in the early stages of Alzheimers she was held in a mental health facility while they did assessments and I guess waited on an aged care bed. She must have been there quite a while because I remember visiting several times (I was about 12). It was separate to the hospital and I just remember it feeling like a lonely place, if that makes sense.
A Psych Ward is where you need the love the MOST, I think. And that’s because there are some people in there who are having episodes and hallucinating etc, while you probably aren’t. So to add to your anxiety and depression you just have people going off all around you in short bursts of crazy. I visited a 17 yr old boy once who had attempted suicide. The place he was in had a worse effect on him than being at home because it was that dark and full on from the other patients. Their was no calm!
Isolation would be one of the worst parts of suffering a mental illness and being admitted into a ward. There is a fear about visiting psych wards. I also think that most of us busy ourselves with life to bother with those that are mentally ill. This is a challenging post to read. If I had a friend in a psych ward I would want them to know that they were loved and supported.
I have sent flowers to a loved one in psychiatric care. Sadly she never received them – I’m not sure why. She did get moved between wards so maybe that’s the reason. I didn’t complain to the florist; I like to think that those flowers brightened up the day for the other patients.
Hubster & I visited a friend in a mental health unit recently. I found it very confronting – brought back memories of visiting my mother in such a place. Not my friend, but a couple of the other patients freaked me out. I’ll admit it – I’m not in a hurry to go back 🙁
Visiting today from #teamIBOT x