"A pearl is a beautiful thing that is produced by an injured life. It is the tear [that results] from the injury of the oyster. The treasure of our being in this world is also produced by an injured life. If we had not been wounded, if we had not been injured, then we will not produce the pearl." - Stephan Hoeller
At some point in the journey of being a Mental Health Family Caregiver we may have a loved one who is hospitalized because of their illness. It is one of the most traumatic experiences for the loved one and their loved ones who are supporting them. Sometimes it may be as a result of their own actions of reaching out for help while experiencing severe negative symptoms of their illness or it may be as the result of family having to step in and have a loved one committed. Whatever the case not knowing what to do can cause a setback, and the last thing we like to deal with is a setback because we understand how much it takes to build trust up with a loved one who is battling a mental illness and may also have psychosis and paranoia as some of the side effects of the illness.
I wanted to share some tips with you that can help to cope with a loved one who is hospitalized and how to continue being a support for them during the process. There are very important steps I wish someone had told me which would have saved me a broken heart and spirit. There are also some things that will make you pull out your warrior and go to war for your loved one as a result of what you learn about my experience today.
Understand each person handles their illness differently than another individual. Mental illness affects people differently. The relationship your family had before the illness was diagnosed makes a huge difference as well. I tell caregivers to take into account your family and your family’s makeup emotionally, spiritually, mentally and physically. If there was mistrust before the diagnosis it will be amplified. If there was love and trust before hand it make come as a shock to family members trying to care for a loved one who all of a sudden doesn’t trust anyone, and thinks there is a conspiracy to harm them.
Always keep in mind IT IS THE ILLNESS and if your loved one could they would choose not to be rude, inconsiderate, paranoid, or moody. The illness effects them in ways you would not imagine if you have not been the victim of your own thoughts, and as studies have shown the physical characteristics of mental illness are very real…think severe back pain and all over body pain with depression.
What should I do if my loved one is hospitalized?
Remember that in order to be hospitalized, normally, your loved one has to have been a danger to themselves or to others. Remember the illness causes this behavior whatever the case may be and that your loved one is obviously out of control of their own body and mind at the point of hospitalization. Our love one is requiring medical intervention to save their life, and although it may be for the better it doesn’t change the fact that it is very traumatic and in the cases where there is a hospital staff with poor ethics…abusive. Here are some things to consider and to try:
Be patient with your loved one – they may say things that hurt especially if they didn’t take themselves to the hospital. Understand what you are doing is out of love and concern for them and once they are stabilized they will understand the “why”.
Listen – Hear what your loved one is saying. Understand some may not make good sense while they are not feeling well, but pay close attention to accusations about the staff and any mistreatment they may speak of.
Investigate – If your loved one is claiming abuse, investigate and see if there are other complaints against the hospital staff or nurses and file a formal complaint if necessary. Keep a journal of what you and your loved one discuss, what you and the nurse discuss, what you and the psychologist or psychiatrist discuss.
Be Observant – Is the facility clean? Are the nurses pleasant? Is the staff rude? Is your loved one over medicated? You are the one anchored in reality so your observations are key. Take someone with you who can be a witness so that your word and that of your loved one is not the only testimony you have if there is a concern regarding abuse.
Call – There is a phone number that you can call to speak to your loved one. Call them consistently so that they maintain a connection to the outside world. I will be so real with you when I say patients are treated differently when staff know there is a family behind them. Ask your loved one when they would like you and family to visit when you speak to them. If they decline, respect their wish, but keep calling.
Respect Their Requests – If your loved one doesn’t want certain family members coming to the hospital then don’t take them with you or ask them not to go. You don’t have to lie, just say visitors are limited right now. Your loved one is limiting visitors so it’s the truth. Having an unwelcomed visitor can be a trigger.
Bring Cards or Flowers – It’s rare that it’s not allowed like if your loved one shares a space with others who may have allergies to pollen etc. Bring in pictures or videos of their pet because they may not be allowed to visit in traditional settings.
Express How Much A Loved One Is Missed – Your loved one needs to be reminded of how much they are loved and how everyone is pulling for them to get better. The more support the better. Remember if there is someone they are not getting along with before the hospitalization please don’t bring a get well soon from that person, it can be a trigger.
Start Preparing for Life Outside Of The Hospital – What is it that landed your loved one there in the first place? If it’s drugs or alcohol, you should be researching and foot marching all over looking for a detox program for your loved one to transition to. It is important to have resources in place when they are coming home.
Seek Out Non Traditional Methods Of Therapy – Sometimes you have to keep trying on therapies for size until you find one that fits. Sometimes your loved one will outgrow a therapy and you as the Caregiver must learn to evolve your support skills with your loved ones care demands and needs. Sometimes using a more holistic approach is better for our loved ones, but remember they set the tone for the direction of the journey we are the support system not the authority.
Remember Your Place – Although your loved one may be out of control and having difficulty stabilizing, they are still an individual who has needs, wants, desires, and dreams. Don’t cut your loved one out of the plans for their own life. Ask what they want to do. If they don’t know at that moment it can change when they are feeling better. If this is a family member you are close to, you may know some of the things they liked before they got sick and can use that info to help to build a new therapy plan for them. However when they are feeling better they should tell you what they want and our job as caregivers is to support and help where they are “unable to do so themselves”.
As a survivor and a mental health family caregiver myself I understand how important these steps are and I know what worked and what didn’t work for us. However I always stress to caregivers to look at their life and their situation and mold their journey accordingly. Just like with a recipe we add to or take away the things we don’t want. Do the same with your care plan for your love one.