Friday Five: Speaking up  

This Friday, I am sharing five tips for sharing that yourself, your child, or your other loved one is in the hospital for mental illness. For a long time, I wasn’t sure if I should share. There is so much stigma and I didn’t want that attached to LM. But I realized that the only way to break down that stigma is to normalize hospitalization for psychiatric stabilization in the ways that we understand and accept hospitalization for physical health stabilization. So we share now, and here’s how we walk the balance of breaking down barriers and protecting privacy. 

1. Stick to the basics. We share that LM is in the hospital, where he is, and news regarding discharge. We don’t share details about what was happening or how visits are going, except perhaps with a limited few family members or close friends. This is even true of sharing the story with his school, since they are not actively engaged in his daily care right now. That part of the story is LM’s, and I need to respect that. 

2. Be aware of your audience. We post those basics on Facebook — but I have 100 friends and the vast majority of them are family members. We post on the blog, but with all the usual precautions with names and pictures. 

3. Find good moments to share. People have lots of horrible images and stereotypes of people with mental illness and the hospitals that serve them. I’m not saying lie or cover up things or rose-colored glasses the stay. These things are hard. But if you have a complaint, it’s better directed towards a patient advocate or nursing supervisor who can actually do something anyways. We share stories of nurses who went the extra mile, or therapists who rocked our socks off, or policies that were especially family-friendly. I want to bring humanity back to something that is very dehumanized by our media, our cultural stories, our language, and more. I also hope that the collective stories of what works can lead to more or that good stuff. 

4. Reach out to friends. It’s a lot easier to maintain those private boundaries when you have those people that you can emotionally vomit up all your fears, worries, anxieties, all the spinning and twirling of your brain over each moment. Find someone who can listen without judgment, whose opinion of you or your loved one won’t change. Turn to that person when things get hard.

5. Do not ever speak about other patients. I mean never. I mean not to your trusted friend, not to your therapist, not to anyone, much less a big audience. The only time you may be excused for talking about another patient is if it directly relates to your child, and that should be confined to confidential patient-therapist type conversations. Hospitalization finds you at your most vulnerable, whether you are the patient or the visiting family. It comes down to the basic golden rule, and I know I don’t want anyone to be running around talking about us!
If anyone catches me violating my own guidelines, I hope they will call me on it. I think we need to talk about hospitalization. I think we need to make it okay. We need to show that awesome people need these supports, that it could be kids and adults and family that you know and adore. Sadly, I think mental health support services will only get better if people start seeing how it can touch the lives of people they know. So we share — with limits. I’d love to hear yours. 

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2 thoughts on “Friday Five: Speaking up  

  1. Well said. It’s such a difficult and lonely time when a family member is hospitalized. Our sweet girl needed to be hospitalized last year and aside from a few close friends and family, very few people knew what we were going through. Fortunately, my daughter is thriving now, but at the time I really wanted some broader support, especially for our son, who was often home alone while my husband and I were at the hospital, attending group sessions or just emotionally unavailable because we were so drained. Our low point came one night when we were so emotionally spent that we forgot to feed him dinner. When he started making himself dinner an hour later, I commented that I was surprised he was still hungry. He looked at me with the saddest eyes and said, “Um actually you and Dad just ate, but you didn’t offer me anything.It’s ok though I understand.” After that we had a long talk and gave him an opportunity to talk about how he was feeling and let him know it was his right to express his feelings, to be cared for and to be happy. We gave him a “get out of the house free card” no questions asked. We arranged for another family to be available for “happy breaks”. It worked really well. He would tell us, “The house feels kind of depressing” or “you guys are way too depressed for me today”, “I need a happy break.” We’d call our friend and he would go over for an hour or so and return a “lighter”, happier kid.
    While my daughter was hospitalized, I really wanted to find families who had gone through what we were going through and come out on the other side. The only place I found support was through the Internet. Once my daughter was better, I really wanted to share with other parents of teens what signs to look for if your child is suicidal or struggling, and to let them know there is hope, and that even well educated, caring parents have children with mental illness, but I didn’t want to violate my daughter’s privacy. Ultimately, the downside to not sharing our daughter’s story with other people was not being able to share the joy of her recovery. We were over the moon excited to see her return to school and each school activity she participated in felt like something to celebrate! Everything felt like a first, because we knew in our minds that everything else in her life was going to be defined by ‘before the hospitalization’ and after. She literally had to rebuild herself and we had to rebuild our parenting for her recovery. Her first day of school, first family party, first movie, first choir concert and first play after her recovery were huge milestones for her, and for us, but nobody, besides my husband and I, understood the magnitude of these accomplishments, because nobody was privy to her depths of despair during her illness. I wanted others to understand that her being on stage in the ensemble was the equivalency of another neurotypical child, playing the lead. While we were celebrating her leaving the house, going to a noisy restaurant, and attending school for a week others were celebrating their teenagers getting their learners permits, their first job or being crowned Homecoming Queen. Thank you for sharing this post, it really touched a place in my heart, and thank you for letting me share my perspective.

    • I just wanted to thank you so much for sharing your story. I know sharing is a very vulnerable thing and I wanted you to know that I hear you and appreciate your openness. Life is so different after, and it is hard to connect with those who truly get it. ❤

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