Most people who are diagnosed with a mental health condition will receive treatment whilst remaining to live at home. However, sometimes our mental health reaches the point where we can’t safely stay at home, and we need to spend some time in hospital.
It can be difficult to know what to do for someone who’s in hospital. We don’t want to do anything to upset them or make things worse, but equally, we don’t want to ignore them and leave them feeling alone and as though we don’t care about them.
1. WRITE TO THEM (BUT DON’T EXPECT AN IMMEDIATE REPLY)
Being in hospital can be boring. Depending on the type of ward we’re on, there can be a lot of sitting around. Feeling cut off from the rest of society is common, and it’s often hard to remember that there’s a world outside of the hospital walls.
The post being delivered can be the highlight of our day. Even if we’re not well enough to read letters that arrive for us, it can still mean a lot to know that people are thinking of us. We can read the letters when we are able to. We might not be able to respond straight away, or at all, depending on how well we are, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t appreciate receiving letters.
Some wards will let us stick things on the walls of our room, too, so it can be really lovely to have letters that we can stick up. Depending on the ward we’re on, there are likely to be restrictions on the things we’re allowed to have, so if we decide to include anything with our letter, it’s always worth checking what’s allowed before posting anything.
2. THOUGHTFUL GIFTS
If you’re visiting or posting something, thoughtful gifts can be a wonderful surprise.
We often really appreciate things to remind us of reasons to keep going, such as photos or postcards. Bringing us things to do can be brilliant, because we often have a lot of spare time when in hospital. This could include things like crafts, puzzle books or games. If you know that certain things really help us, such as things to fiddle with or things to hold that will help to ground us, then they can be lovely gifts. Perhaps there’s something you’ve really enjoyed, such as a book or DVD – bringing us a copy of one of these things would be incredibly thoughtful. Maybe you could order a complete surprise, something that even you don’t know what’s inside, such as a BuddyBox.
There are likely to be restrictions on things that we’re allowed when in hospital. This will vary depending on the type of ward that we’re on. If in doubt it’s always worth checking before bringing or posting something.
3. RESPECT OUR BOUNDARIES
When we’re in hospital, we probably won’t be feeling our best. Sometimes we don’t want people to visit. It isn’t usually personal, it’s just how it is. We might be really paranoid, think the world is conspiring against us, be feeling unsafe, be sedated, be feeling out of control, be adjusting to new medications, or be feeling really self-conscious. Sometimes we’re just really, really tired and can’t cope with seeing people. There are a lot of different things that can happen in hospital and we don’t always want to see people while these things are going on. It can be a really confusing and scary time. Please always ask before visiting and if we say that we don’t want you to visit, then please don’t. If you turn up anyway it can feel as though you’re not respecting our boundaries.
If we do ask you to visit, please try to respect visiting times. Visiting at appropriate times isn’t just about respecting us, it’s also about respecting the other staff and patients on the ward.
4. ASK IF THEY NEED ANYTHING SORTING OUT AT HOME
Life doesn’t stop when we get admitted to a ward. More often than not, we still have things at home that need taking care of. This could include things like pets that need looking after, children that need sorting out, parents that we visit, a lawn that needs cutting, plants that need watering, bins that need putting out for collection, a car that needs running occasionally so that the battery doesn’t go flat, meter readings that need doing, and bills that need paying.
It can be really hard to ask people to help us with these sorts of things because it can leave us feeling useless. We often beat ourselves up for not being able to do these ‘basic’ things, and asking someone to do them for us can be embarrassing. Asking us if we need help with these things can be a lifesaver because we don’t have to worry about working out how to ask for the help we need.
5. HELPING OUT WHEN VISITING
Sometimes we aren’t able to leave the hospital, but we could do with a few items from home. Asking us if there’s anything we need from home and then bringing it with you when you visit can be a huge help. Not being allowed to do something as simple as going home and picking out our favourite pyjamas to bring back, can leave us feeling helpless and hopeless. If you’re able to bring the items that we need (providing they don’t break any of the ward’s rules), it can help us to feel so much more comfortable and settled.
When we’re in hospital, we’re sometimes allowed to go on leave. Depending on our treatment, and the ward we’re on, we might be allowed as much leave as we like, we might only be allowed out for a set period of time, have to stay within hospital grounds, or only be allowed out when accompanied by a staff member, visitor, or both. Meeting us when we’re on leave, or taking us out when you visit us, can provide us with some relief from the ward environment.
6. OFFER SOME HOPE
Focusing on recovery is an awful lot harder when we have no hope. Talking to us about ‘normal’ things, like what you’re up to at work, what mischief your cat’s been getting up to, or how your children made a mess that morning, can help to remind us that there’s more to life than medication, therapy, and hospital walls. Speaking to us like the friend or family member you know us to be, can be a nice change from being spoken to as a patient. Reminding us who we are, as a person, rather than a person with a diagnosis, can help us to see ourselves as someone other than a ‘person with depression’. If we’re well enough, talking to us about things you want to do with us when we’re discharged from hospital, can help us to look towards the future and to see that we can live a meaningful life. Offering us some hope, and reminding us that we are a person, not a diagnosis, can be one of the most helpful and meaningful things you can do for us.
Please help us to help others and share this post, you never know who might need it.