Dating with a mental illness, especially bipolar disorder, can be a minefield to navigate. You need to find someone who will support you in all aspects of life, including your struggles with your mental conditions.
Finding such a person can be daunting. A lot of people who have little experience with mental illnesses tend to think that people with bipolar disorder are “crazy” and out of control. Stigma and awful stereotypes are very real. Some people may bolt as soon as they hear the word “bipolar.”
You have to communicate honestly with your significant other about your disorder, but first you have to disclose to them that you have one. But when do you disclose to your dates that you have more to deal with than a neurotypical person?
Honesty is the Best Policy
You may have a million questions when it come to dating. For example, when do you disclose your illness? Will you be honest on the first date or will you wait until you’ve gotten to know your date before letting them know? If you can’t work and are on disability due to your illness, how do you explain what you do? When do you let your date know if you’re on meds?
Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to these questions. Dating looks different for everyone regardless of their mental conditions. When you disclose should always be up to you.
If you are just dating casually, disclosing your mental illness isn’t that important. But if you are looking for a long-term relationship, disclosing that you suffer from mood episodes should be your highest priority.
If you can hide your illness and let your boyfriend or girlfriend know months into a relationship that you’ve been keeping something so big a secret from him or her, then he or she might feel betrayed and break up with you, or worse.
When it comes to dating with an illness that is hard to hide and impacts your life every single day, then honesty is the best policy. Letting your date know on the second or third date, before either of you has invested too much into the relationship, is better than waiting until you’ve moved in together.
Tell your date about your disorder before you make any long-term commitments to that person. Explain what he or she can expect when you suffer a mood episode. Let them know what steps you usually take to manage your disorder, and the treatment team you have in place.
This way, your partner won’t be shocked when your moods and behaviors suddenly shift, and may even be prepared to help you through your mood episode.
Explaining your mental illness to your dates before you make a long-term commitment is crucial for your relationship to thrive.
Some people may run for the hills when you disclose your struggles. Let them. They wouldn’t have been capable of supporting you or committing to the whole you anyway. Find someone else who you know will be able to remain strong in the face of your mental illness.
Dating with a mental illness can be difficult. But if you are honest with your date about your mental condition before feelings start to grow, then you avoid the risk of alienating them and suffering from a hard breakup.
Whether they’re the giver or the receiver, everyone loves random acts of kindness. Monday, February 17th is National Random Act of Kindness day in 2020.
Having a mental illness like bipolar disorder does not preclude you from being kind. And suffering from a mood episode is the time when you need people to be kind to you.
There are many ways you can offer a bit of yourself to someone else, even while dealing with a mental disorder.
Why not celebrate the holiday with one gentle act for someone else? Here are 5 ways to be kind to others.
1. Write a Letter or Thank You Note to Someone You’re Grateful to
In my opinion as a writer, there is no more powerful thing than the written word to show someone you care about them. “Words of affirmation” is my love language. I write thank you notes and letters to my loved ones all the time, and would love to receive a random letter in the mail anytime.
If you want to show someone you are grateful for their help over the years, why not sit down and pen a letter explaining your feelings? All it takes is paper, a pen, an envelope, a stamp, and time. Expressing yourself in a letter or thank you note is a powerful way to show that you’ve been thinking about someone.
2. Clean Up
Cleaning up, be it dishes you do for a roommate or trash you pick up in the park, is a great way to celebrate Random Act of Kindness Day.
If you are physically and mentally able, then pick up the living room or go out and collect trash from your neighborhood or nearby roads. There are many ways to volunteer your time helping tidy the areas you live in.
3. Forgive Someone
Anger damages the vessel its stored in more than the person its poured out upon. If you are carrying resentment around in your heart due to a hurt someone else caused you, consider trying to forgive him or her as an act of kindness.
Forgiveness can be one of the most difficult acts we embark on, but it is life-changing. If you forgive a deep-seated resentment, you will feel freer and lighthearted.
Consider writing a letter (see #1) explaining to the person who hurt you that you’ve decided to let bygones be bygones. Put the past in the past, and let the pain go.
4. Put Someone Else First
Being considerate of other people is a powerful act of kindness. If you put someone else first, be it as simple as letting him or her go first in line, or allowing another driver into your lane, then you can make someone’s day.
Let someone else have the first slice of pizza. You will be better off for it.
5. Take Care of a Pet or Child
Taking care of the most vulnerable among us shows that you have a good heart. If you have a pet or young child that needs tended to, why not spend some time helping them out?
Clean your pet’s food dishes. Donate some blankets to an animal shelter, or volunteer your time there. Walk a neighbor’s dog.
As for children, mentor a sibling. Listen to whatever lights your child’s fire. Take a neighbor’s kid out for ice cream.
There are many ways to celebrate National Random Act of Kindness Day, even if you’re suffering from a mental illness. You can write a letter, clean up, forgive someone, put someone else first, or take care of a pet or child.
Hello, hello! Welcome to the Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Appointments Edition!
How are you? How’s life treating you lately? What have you been up to this week? Have you been maintaining your self-care routine? How are the kids? What parenting challenges have you been dealing with lately? Please let me know; I genuinely want to hear from you!
My week has been following the theme of the previous couple of weeks: utterly depressing. I just haven’t been myself lately. I’ve been struggling to do housework and the most basic of tasks, like brushing my teeth (ew).
I missed an appointment with my therapist on Monday. I completely forgot about it. Luckily, I was able to reschedule for Wednesday.
My therapist believes my depression may be seasonal. I have been unusually exhausted lately as well, so she asked me if I would a) get a physical and some bloodwork done with my primary care physician, and b) set up an appointment with my psychiatrist.
I have the appointment with the PCP on Tuesday of next week and the psychiatrist on Thursday. I am blessed to have a treatment team, and decent insurance.
On Thursday, I started potty training the toddler. She’s amazing at it. She only had a few accidents on Thursday; on Friday, she had one. I am so proud of her.
Unfortunately, I was so excited to potty train her, and so focused on asking “do you need to go potty?” every fifteen minutes, that I missed my morning meds (Welbutrin and vitamin D) on Thursday. That threw me for a loop for the whole rest of the week.
Wellbutrin shares a caffeine pathway, which means I can’t simply take it in the afternoon, or the medication will keep me awake at night. No sleep means mania for me, usually. I want to avoid that at all costs, as mania is much more destructive than depression in my experience.
On Friday, I did very little, except to fold 5 loads of laundry that had piled up on my bed. I also, to my chagrin, yelled at my son for making his sister scream. There’s something about a high-pitched, extended, hysterical screaming that goes right to my primal brain.
So that’s been my week. A week of big, stressful changes, that I’ve been experiencing through a thick fog of apathy. Hopefully my PCP and psychiatrist figure out what’s wrong and treat me accordingly. Thanks for listening, and wish me luck!
How are you? What have you been struggling with? Let me know!
Show me some love!
Hello! Welcome to the Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Apathy Edition!
How are you? Have you been keeping up with your self-care? How’s parenting going? What have you been struggling with lately? What’s been good in your life? Let me know!
I’ve just been going through the motions this week. There’s been a serious disconnect between me and everything going on around me.
Except for the basics like pre-scheduled playdates and making dinner, I’ve done literally nothing but sit on the couch and play on my phone, and I’m not even enjoying that. No housework. Not enough engagement with my kids. I’ve had the doldrums lately.
I’ve also engaged in a lot of negative self-talk about my body. I’ve been on my menstrual cycle this week, which didn’t help my mood, and made me feel fat and gross. I’ve put myself down for being about 50 pounds overweight all week, and now I’m putting a stop to that. Negative self-talk has no benefit, and doesn’t help me want to lose weight at all. It just makes me feel bad.
I’ve scheduled an appointment to talk to my therapist on Monday. I called a warmline Friday evening, and the operator I talked to has bipolar disorder, which was very helpful. I could tell she understood bipolar depression, because she’s lived it. I’ll be meeting with my psychiatrist in March, though I might want to call his office and ask for an earlier appointment. We shall see.
So I’m taking steps to address this soul-sucking pit of depression that I’ve found myself in. Please keep me in your prayers.
What do you want to accomplish in the next week? The next month? The next year?
A vision statement is usually reserved for businesses. It’s a purpose-driven overview of what the business owner wants to accomplish with their company. It should leave nothing to interpretation. You want to set this goal and contribute to the end result of the vision statement with little steps you can take during everyday life.
Most vision statements are an overarching goal of the company. For example, Disney’s is “make people happy.” There’s no reason you can’t write a personal, mental-health oriented vision statement. And yours doesn’t have to be nearly as ambitious, and you may want to center it on improving your own station rather than making other people happy, sometimes an impossible feat.
So how do you write a mental-health oriented vision statement to ring in the new year?
Basic Guidelines for Vision Statements
Here are the basic guidelines for vision statements. Keep in mind that you don’t have to follow all of these guidelines, but they’re good starting points.
A vision statement should be short. A vision statement is a brief outline of your goals. It should be one-to-two sentences, max.
A vision statement should be specific. What are you hoping to accomplish with your goal? Try to be as specific as possible. Disney’s vision statement, “make people happy,” is too general and too other-people focused for the vision statement you want to make.
A vision statement should be simple. Everyone who hears or reads your vision statement should be able to understand it. The less complex you make your end goal, the more likely it is that you are to follow it.
A vision statement should be ambitious, but achievable. When setting goals for yourself, you want to challenge yourself to accomplish great things. If you’re suffering from depression, such a challenge seems impossible to complete. That’s okay. You can adjust the level of ambition based on how you’re feeling. Like, “I will take a shower, feed myself, and make my bed everyday for six months.” These lofty goals are challenging for a depressed person, right? But definitely achievable.
Following these guidelines will help you write a compelling vision statement.
Vision Statement Examples
Using the above guidelines, set a goal for yourself which is mental-health oriented. Try to make the vision statement short, simple, specific, and ambitious but achievable.
“I will focus on self-care three days a week for eight weeks, which should improve my mood.”
“I will find a competent therapist and attend therapy as often as I can afford, but preferably once a month, for the next year.”
Try to stay true to yourself, and focus on the types of goals that you can achieve.
If you can, do some thinking about what kinds of overarching, mental-health oriented vision statements you want to set for the next six months to a year. Setting yourself an ambitious but achievable goal may encourage you to meet it, and hopefully take care of yourself in the new year.
Happy New Year!
What vision statement do you think you’ll set for yourself this year? Let me know in the comments!
After the birth of my son eleven years ago, I suffered a postpartum psychotic breakdown and committed myself to a mental hospital. I later wrote a book detailing the experience, and how I reacted at the time. I learned many things during my five-day stay, and I’d like to share some of them with you today. Here are 9 things I learned at the psych ward:
Anger is common. The most surprising lesson I learned during my stay at the mental hospital was that anger is shockingly common for patients at first. While there, the doctors seem to be your enemies who want to keep you there. It’s not true. Your doctors want to help you exit the facility successfully. Couple the us vs. them mentality with emotional and mental distress, and it’s not suprising that patients tend to respond with anger. But the heightened emotion tends to dissipate over the length of the stay, as the medication starts working.
Inpatient treatment is a stopgap. A stay in a mental hospital is similar to a stay in the physical hospital for surgery: you don’t fully recover while you’re there. A mental break or depressive episode can’t be solved in a day, no matter how good the meds are.
The patients are human. One of my main mistakes during my stay in the mental hospital in the mental hospital was dismissing the other patients as “crazy.” But the patients in a mental hospital are human, with all of humanity’s weaknesses and strengths. Everyone has a story. Everyone is suffering more than you know. I learned that I shouldn’t dehumanize or dismiss people because they’re suffering from mental illnesses–including myself.
The staff is human, too. Learning that the patients were human was hard, but what was even harder was recognizing that the staff were human, too. At first, I believed the doctors and nurses were out to get me. But the staff are all individuals, and human. Some of them are kind and compassionate, while others are just working a shift. I learned to accept the flaws and foibles of all the nurses and psychiatrists, and that made the stay more bearable.
Boredom reigns supreme. After my anger diminished, I was bored out of my skull. I was manic and depressed–suffering from a mixed episode–and restless. The only distractions available were coloring sheets, an ancient, derelict computer, reading old issues of Reader’s Digest, and (gasp!) talking to the other patients. I was far too revved up to engage in coloring or sloooow web surfing or reading, so I talked the ears off of my roommate.
Even while psychotic, I was aware of how people treated me. Even during my psychotic break, I was able to pick up on other people’s moods. I don’t know if that’s just a “me thing,” or if everyone psychotic is that in tune with others, but I knew when people were mistreating me. Be careful when dealing with psychotic people, and treat them with respect.
Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. During my stay in the mental hospital, I grew close to my roommate. Too close. I struggled to separate myself from her, even feeling shocked and betrayed that she would vote for a different presidential candidate than I would. I genuinely believed we shared the same thoughts. Learning boundaries was extremely difficult for me, but everyone benefited.
The nurses draw your blood after every meal. The other patients and I were required to sit in a garish, orange chair after every meal and “donate” blood. The nurses drew our blood thrice daily, and it wasn’t until the middle of my stay that I realized they were checking to see if the medication was up to acceptable levels.
If you commit yourself, the doctors cannot legally hold you. Missing the first few weeks of my infant’s life was devastating. I was desperate to go home and take care of him. It wasn’t until my fifth day that I learned, through a slip of the tongue from a nurse, that, since I committed myself, I was able to go home anytime. I left against medical advice the day after that–potentially a mistake, as my recovery time from my mixed episode was probably longer than it would have been because I didn’t allow the doctors to do their jobs. Thankfully, God was with me and I did, eventually, recover (see lesson #2).
My stay in the mental hospital was literally life-saving. I learned more about myself there in six days than I learned in a year’s worth of therapy prior to that. I learned how to manage myself, other people, and my expectations of those people. I managed my surprising anger. I learned that dehumanizing others is easy and a bad habit to slip into. I learned that mental hospitals sound like scary places, but they’re actually really boring. Above all, I learned that I can handle anything life throws at me.
If you’ve dealt with a stay in a mental hospital, what have you learned?
How are you? How’s your day going? How’s your week? Do you have any holiday plans? If you have kids or a partner, how are they? Let’s chat!
How I’m Doing
My week has been a good one. My mother-in-law was here, and we all adore her. The toddler especially loves her Grandma. We made cookies on Sunday, and hung out the rest of the week. My family’s holiday plan is to fly across the country in mid-December to visit her where she lives. We’re all looking forward to it!
So please let me know how you’re doing. I do genuinely want to get to know you all.
With winter–the gloomy skies, cold temperatures, and lack of outdoor time–comes depression for many people. The feelings of sadness and dreary drudgery are often called “the winter blues,” or seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder include:
Feelings of sadness most of the day for an extended period of time
Sleeping too much
Anhedonia (losing interest in activities you usually like)
Cravings for carbohydrates
Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
Some people suffer from SAD for the entire winter. But can you mitigate or prevent the winter blues? Yes, you can. Read on for cost-effective, doable strategies.
Check in with Your Primary Care Physician
Attending a “wellness” visit with your primary care physician is the first step to mitigate the effects of SAD. You want to make sure that you don’t have any other physical causes to your depression, like low thyroid hormones. Get a physical examination and blood work done to ensure you have adequate vitamin D in your bloodstream. Many health insurance companies will cover an annual physical.
Walk Outside for 30 Minutes Every Day, No Exceptions
You need to get outside during the winter. That’s one of the basic tenets of daily self-care (the others are getting enough sleep, eating well, drinking water, socializing with an actual person, and exercise). Make a daily walk mandatory, no exceptions, even if you feel awful and it’s the last thing you want to do. You need sunlight–which is in short supply during the winter–to head off the winter blues. Take a walk during your lunch break.
Uncover your Windows During the Day to Let in Sunlight
If you spread the curtains wide open during the day, you can maximize the sunlight you absorb, and save money on heating bills for the house. Uncover your windows and let that sunlight stream in, and make sure to sit in it.
Purchase a Few Full-Spectrum Bulbs
Full-spectrum lightbulbs mimic the natural light of the sun, so invest in 3-5 bulbs for the lights you use most around the house. Spend some time under these lights every day, and you may feel your mood lifting. Purchase one bulb for your desk lamp, and shine it directly on yourself when you’re working on your computer. After winter is over, change the bulbs out for standard LEDs to maximize the lifespan of all the bulbs.
Eat Plenty of Fruits, Vegetables, and Whole Grains
When it comes to managing depression, both the Mediterranean diet and the whole-foods, plant-based diets can help if followed correctly. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains during the winter, and your mood may lift. Figure out which colorful vegetables you like and have those for dinner every night. Eat fruit for snacks.
Eat Foods with Vitamin D
Your diet is so important to your mood. If you consume foods with vitamin D, like fish, cheese, and eggs, then you may feel better. Your body absorbs natural sources of the vitamin better than supplements. Enjoy scrambled eggs for breakfast. Eat a tuna melt for lunch. Eat salmon for dinner. You’re not absorbing sunlight from outside, so you need as much vitamin D as possible.
Eat Foods with B12
Beef, fish, and fortified milk all have B12, a vitamin essential for managing depression. Low levels of vitamin B12 trigger intense feelings of sadness and anxiety. Fish is especially good to eat during the winter because it has both vitamins D and B12. You don’t have to eat beef, fish, or fortified milk daily, but have a steak with a huge glass of milk once in a while.
If you are vegan or eating a whole-foods, plant-based diet, then make sure you’re supplementing both of these vitamins.
Become a Social Butterfly
Socializing with actual people is awful when you’re depressed. I know, I’ve been there. But scheduling social events outside the home will get you out into the world and talking with people, which everyone needs, even the most introverted people. Socialization is especially important during the winter, as you’re tempted to stick your head into the ground like an ostrich. Don’t do that. Find groups on Meetup.com or at church, if you’re religious.
Go to Bed at the Same Time, and Wake up at the Same Time, Too
One of the hardest things for me in the winter is getting up in the morning. When it’s still dark, I want nothing more than to curl up under the covers and sleep. This is dangerous because it leads to oversleeping, which is a symptom of and can contribute to SAD. Set your alarm for the same time every morning, and go to bed at the same time every night. This will train your body to only get the eight to nine hours of sleep you need.
Try some or all of these strategies, but the more you try, the more you’ll be able to prevent or mitigate the effects of seasonal affective disorder. It’s common to feel the winter blues. You’re not alone. Try a mix of things which can help.
I have suffered from bipolar disorder I for decades, but I didn’t know that my condition had a name for a long time. It wasn’t until after a psychotic break following the birth of my son 11 years ago that I was diagnosed, and started managing the illness. Thankfully, my bipolar disorder is not the treatment-resistant type, so I have responded well to medication and therapy.
Here are 11 lessons I learned after 11 years of managing bipolar disorder:
Lesson #1: Take my Medication, Everyday
Like almost everyone who takes medication for a chronic illness, I found myself not wanting to take my pills. Could I manage my disorder without them? Do I have to take my meds everyday? The answers to those questions are: no, I can’t, and yes, I do, respectively.
I learned the hard way that I have to take my medication every day. If I don’t, I end up manic, anxious, or depressed, and sometimes all three at once. Mania and depression presenting at once is called a mixed episode, which I have on occasion. They are the most dangerous of all the episodes if left untreated, because I think awful thoughts and have the energy (and lack of impulse control) to act on them. For me, taking my medication daily is the only way to head off these episodes.
Lesson #2: Take my Medication on Time
Taking my meds on time (morning meds in the morning, night meds at night) is something I still struggle with. My psychiatrist recently told me to take a medication I was taking at night in the morning, which I am not at all used to, so I often forget to take them. But I’ve found that if I take the medication which shares a caffeine pathway in my brain at night, then I’ll be up all night, which can lead to manic episodes. It’s a balance I’ve yet to master.
Lesson #3: This Mental Illness is Lifelong
Until the past several months, I hadn’t suffered a depressive or manic episode in six or seven years. I thought, foolishly, that the mental illness had simply–poof!–disappeared. The fact that I can’t just make mental illness go away has been one that I’ve struggled to accept. I can manage my disorder, but it is always with me.
Lesson #4: Make Peace with my Diagnosis
Like many people diagnosed with a mental illness, I struggled at first with my diagnosis. I couldn’t be bipolar, I thought. I wasn’t crazy, like the people surrounding me in the mental hospital I committed myself to. But I was and am mentally ill. Making peace with my diagnosis only came in time, after I had figured out how to manage my condition. Like lesson #3, I had to realize that this mental illness is lifelong, and I needed to deal with it.
Lesson #5: Take my Bipolar Disorder Seriously
If left untreated, my bipolar disorder will wreck my life. Over the years, I have taken my medication consistently and attended therapy religiously. But when I didn’t, my carefully constructed life fell apart–and how. I have since learned that I must take my mental illness seriously. Like a diabetic, one slip up is enough to send me into a spiral of destruction. I can never stop managing bipolar disorder, ever.
Lesson #6: Honesty is the Best Policy
I’ve found that, when it comes to my moods, honesty is the best policy. When my son asks me how I’m feeling, I will tell him that I am anxious, depressed, fine, or feeling “up.” I don’t ask him to manage my emotions, but he is able to adjust his expectations of me accordingly. He is extraordinarily empathetic and mature for his age, and I have no doubts that’s because of how my mental illness has affected him. In other cases, being honest about my bipolar disorder to people other than my immediate family ends up with the same result. For more information on how to disclose your disorder to friends and family, click here.
Lesson #7: Gather a Support System
For many, many years, I was too depressed to gather a strong support system. I had moved away from all my friends and family for my husband’s job, and felt isolated. Making new friends, especially when I had an infant to care for, seemed impossible. It’s only been fairly recently that I’ve reconnected with my family (and been honest with them; see lesson #6), and made new friends who understand mental illness. This support is crucial to my wellbeing. If I had known how much not having a system in place affected me, I would have pushed myself hard to make friends sooner.
Lesson #8: Manage my Sleep
Staying up all night for a week is what triggered my psychotic break and first real manic episode. I have learned the hard way that sleep is my best friend. When I don’t sleep, I end up firmly in the middle of a manic episode, depressive episode, or mixed episode. Sleep is crucial for anyone with bipolar disorder, but I need more sleep than the average adult (about 9-10 hours a night vs. 7-8). I cannot function without sleep.
Lesson #9: Trust my Mental Health Team
Like many people who suffer from mental illnesses, I have had upwards of seven psychiatrists, and two therapists. They keep moving on me! Building trust in a new treatment team is so difficult, but I have to advocate for myself and learn to trust every time change upsets the apple cart. The lesson that my mental health team is only acting in my best interest has been a difficult one to learn. I now rely on my current psychiatrist and therapist with my life.
Lesson #10: Know my Triggers
Learning common bipolar triggers took time, and effort. I didn’t do a lot of research about bipolar disorder when I was first diagnosed, and what a fool I was. Figuring out that I needed good sleep hygiene (see lesson #8) took a period of trial and error, during which my husband and child suffered as I wasn’t present for them. Learning what triggered my manic or depressive episodes, and how to manage those triggers, was crucial in learning how to manage my disease.
Lesson #11: Therapy is Awesome
Though I was attending therapy for nine months before my diagnosis, learning coping skills in therapy was invaluable. I have attended innumerable sessions with a therapist over the years, and doing so has helped me: be more present as a parent and wife, learn how to manage my bipolar disorder, and figure out how to deal with family situations like a tense Christmas. Therapy is awesome. I highly recommend prioritizing counseling sessions if you can afford them. Many therapists take clients on a sliding scale.
Over the years, I have learned several more lessons than just these 11. But these are likely the most important. Many of these lessons are common ones learned by people who suffer from mental illnesses. If you suffer from bipolar disorder and are newly-diagnosed, take heart. Do research on your condition, take your medications, and never stop fighting.
Sometimes, people just need a little help. There may come a time in your life where a friend or loved one is committed to a mental hospital. When I suffered a postpartum breakdown after the birth of my first child, I committed myself. I was fortunate enough to have the support of a loving, devoted husband, who cared for our newborn and for me while I was struggling with a psychotic manic episode. If you have a friend or loved one spending time in a psychiatric ward, here are some tips on how to best support him or her. If you have a loved one staying in the mental hospital and have other people ready to support him or her but don’t know how, then feel free to print this article out and hand it to them.
The “DON’Ts” of Visiting a Friend or Loved One in a Mental Hospital
Don’t show up unannounced. Make sure you call ahead of time before visiting your friend or loved one in a mental hospitlal. I am sure he or she would love visitors, but being hospitalized is exhausting, and sometimes your friend might not be up for a long visit, or even one at all that day. Also be sure to check when visiting hours actually are.
Don’t be afraid. Mental hospitals may seem like scary places, and it might feel natural to be afraid while you’re there. Patients talk to themselves, are in pain, and are sometimes unpredictable. But your fear contributes to stigma. These patients are normal people who are struggling with mental and/or physical illnesses. The nurses can manage the patients, who are unlikely to be violent. Conquer your fear and don’t worry about visiting your loved one.
Don’t act like you’re going to catch mental illnesses. When I was committed, a fellow patient introduced me to her family. They were very reluctant to shake hands with me, and leaned back from me, presumably so I wouldn’t breathe on them. Their behavior, where they acted as if I were contagious, was insulting and demeaning. You cannot catch crazy. Do not even act as if people in pain are contagious.
Don’t pity the patients. Sympathy is good, empathy is even better, but pity is terrible for anyone suffering from a mental illness. Pity contributes to feelings of low self-worth and depression, and just feels bad. Try to empathize with your friend or loved one stuck in the hospital, but don’t pity or blame him or her for being there.
Don’t abandon your friend as soon as the hospital stay is over. After the hospital stay has concluded, check in with your friend and see if there’s anything he or she needs, be it a cup of coffee or help cleaning the house. Just like a physical illness, mental illnesses take a long time to recover from, especially when a hospital stay is required. Your friend will need you more than ever when they leave the hospital. Continue being a good friend and supporting him or her.
The “DOs” of Visiting a Friend or Loved One in the Mental Hospital
Do visit. One of the best ways to support a friend or loved one who is staying in a psych ward is to show up and be there for them. If you can leave your judgments at the door and offer a compassionate listening ear, you can help buoy him or her and even aid in his or her recovery. Visit as often as you can and the hospital allows.
Do bring something to do or talk about. One of the surprising aspects of the hospital is how boring a stay can be. Patients have very little to do other than color and read old copies of Reader’s Digest, or whatever the hospital has on hand from prior donations. A person staying in the mental ward may face crushing boredom; do your best to alleviate that.
Do write and call. If you can’t visit, dropping your loved one a note or calling him or her up will be very much appreciated. Knowing that people on the outside haven’t forgotten him or her is extremely helpful to a person staying in the psychiatric hospital.
Do offer your loved ones the same respect you give them when they are well. The best way my husband was able to support me was to treat me as if I were the same person he’d always known, and play with me as if I weren’t in a hospital setting. Treat your loved ones with respect; even when psychotic, I was able to tell when other people were mistreating me.
Do acknowledge your loved one’s pain. Validation is one of the most powerful tools you have at your disposal to relate to your loved one. Rather than responding with something like, “You’ll get over it,” or even “Hang in there,” to their depression, acknowledge that he or she is hurting. Even saying, “That sounds really difficult,” will put your loved one at ease.
Do advocate for your friend or loved one. Ask the person you’re visiting whether they think their treatment team is treating them properly, and keep your eyes open for any problems. The likelihood of your loved one being abused is low, but he or she still might not be able or willing to speak up for himself or herself, even for something as simple as asking for an extra blanket or a clean set of sheets. Keep in mind that your loved one may not be the most reliable narrator; anger at the nurses is common in a mental ward, especially at the beginning of one’s stay, so your loved one might take the chance to rail against their “tormentors.” But don’t hesitate to bring up your loved one’s concerns with the nurses. If the mistreatment is real, you will need to advocate for your loved one and ensure he or she gets proper care.
Do establish boundaries. If you are overwhelmed by your loved one’s negativity, change the subject. Try not to cut the visit short unless he or she becomes too agitated to speak or becomes violent, as some patients might think you’re abandoning them. But healthy boundaries are important when visiting a friend in the mental ward. Take care of yourself and make sure to do something relaxing for yourself as soon as the visit concludes.
There are several dos and don’ts when supporting a friend or loved one staying in a mental hospital. Having gone through the experience of committing myself, I can strongly suggest that you visit as often as you can and the patient allows, as that will aid in his or her recovery. The feeling of being forgotten while staying in a psych ward is very real, and is crippling. Try to be in tune with your friend’s needs, and don’t abandon them after the hospital stay is over.