There are times when we don’t know how to react and help the one we love. They are situations that can be uncomfortable or simply new and unexpected. I am sure that my commitment to a psychiatric hospital was all of those things for my family and friends; it was for me too.
and the circumstances that led me to be in the hospital. On this occasion I want to focus on the people close to the patient and give some simple advice to support a loved one who is going through a psychiatric hospitalization.
reflect and pray
Regardless of why your friend or family member needs to be in the hospital, it’s natural to feel sad, worried, or helpless. What is not helpful is feeling shame or guilt. Some of us have learned that going to psychological therapy is for weak or crazy people, perhaps we have even heard that it is sinful. The mental hospital sounds much worse. Or maybe you blame yourself for not noticing something was wrong and for not stopping your loved one from getting to this point.
Reflect on what you feel and think about this situation. Where do your beliefs come from? Is there a biblical foundation for them? Are you more concerned about what others think than the health of your loved one? There may be many things behind what you feel. Whatever it is, ask God for love and courage to face the situation in a way that reflects his love.
Respect your confidentiality
The reality is that mental illness is still highly stigmatized. It is not uncommon to lose relationships due to the misinformation of many people. Please do not reveal information about your loved one without their authorization. Although there is no reason to be ashamed, not all people will think the same. In addition, the patient is the only one who has the right to reveal what he has experienced. Let him or her be ready to speak for themselves and face the possible consequences.
Visit only if you want
If you are not an immediate family member, once visits are authorized, ask before to visit your loved one. A mental hospital is not a pleasant place for anyone, and the patient may not want to be seen in such a vulnerable state.
If you go to visit, take care that your conversation is not another source of anxiety. Remember that being locked up prevents you from solving everything you left out. Being hospitalized one does not forget that they have problems, and may even feel guilty for being out of the real world and not being able to attend to their responsibilities. Visits are the most anticipated thing of the day when you are hospitalized and they have a great impact on your mental state, because they are the only thing that reminds you of everything you left out.
Stay present when I go out
Leaving the hospital is even more difficult than being inside. Even if you only spend a few days in the hospital, coming out feels like you’ve been gone for years. Time passes very slowly in a hospital. Your life was put on pause but the world went on without you. Everything feels different, almost like new, and for several days after discharge you feel like you don’t fit in with your old life.
Talking with some fellow inmates and reading the experiences of others, I realized that I was not the only one who sometimes wanted to return to the hospital, despite how unpleasant the experience can be. In fact, it is not uncommon for relapses to occur in the first few weeks after discharge. For all of the above, I believe that the return to daily life is when your loved one needs you the most. There is not a series of steps that I can offer you, the best thing you can do is ask directly what you need. It can be things as simple as reminding you to take your medication, or things as intimidating as managing the stigma attached to having a mental illness that required hospitalization.
The best thing you can do is keep in touch. This will give your loved one the confidence to specifically ask for what they need from you and feel like they are still a part of your life.
Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable
Please don’t use the Bible to hide your emotions. Of course it’s good that the basis of your words and actions is Scripture… what doesn’t help is using the Bible as a shield so as not to make ourselves vulnerable. We are called to cry with those who cry (Rom. 12:15) and I think we are not aware of how positive it can be to have a little empathy towards the person who suffers.
Job’s friends are a good example that you can share truths and still make a hurt person’s situation worse (Job 4). I understand that as Christians, the ideal verses for each situation may immediately come to mind. Before you share those verses, listen, try to understand, and get in touch with your emotions so that you can better know what the other person needs.
Beware of condescension
Like all of us, people with mental illness need to be reminded of the gospel and confronted with their sin. So I’m not saying don’t talk about sin with your loved one. What you should not do is speak from a position of superiority.
Your sin and that of a psychiatric patient are not different; your need for Christ and his are the same. Even if the patient’s illness was caused by his sin, you should never rush to judgment, but rather show love. Don’t try to fix your loved one like a broken object (we know when they try). Better help him feel that he is a valuable and complete person in Christ, just as he is. Even in the midst of illness God can use you and transform you more and more into his image. In the end we are all growing together and you could learn as much from a person with a mental illness as they could from you.
Take care and ask for help
My mom woke up one Monday to the news that her daughter was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. My husband practically did not sleep in two days solving the procedures required for my stay and his own work obligations. Imagine the degree of anguish and stress they were feeling. Perhaps you have already experienced it and you know how difficult it is not being able to see your loved one and having very little news about his or her condition. It is important that you do not forget your basic needs. Do not neglect your health, and try to share your concerns with a friend or with your pastor. It is also possible that you need to speak with a professional for a while to process everything that derives from such a stressful situation. You don’t have to go through this alone.
Remember that God is capable of transforming any difficult situation into a source of blessings that you cannot imagine. The mental hospital does not offer an immediate cure for mental health problems; however, it is an opportunity to change a strategy that was not working. God is good and merciful to use this experience for your growth, whether your loved one gets better or not.
This article was published with the support of a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the John Templeton Foundation.