Friend in Psychiatric Intensive Care

judithnOctober 8, 2012

A friend of mine was admitted to a Psychiatric unit at the hospital this weekend. A family member of hers emailed me to tell me that she'd been admitted for depression and possibly some other things but that she'd be evaluated over the next week or so. They wanted to tell me because I am a close friend and they would like me to help with her recovery.

This is a long standing friendship, we've know each other for about 10 years, and meet regularly about once a month for lunch, walks, museums, etc. We also travel together and email weekly.

I don't know the circumstances of the hospital admission, whether she wanted to go or if it was against her will. I don't know if she attempted to harm herself or somebody else. So I don't know her state of mind. But it had to be serious for her to be admitted, I think.

In any event, after receiving the initial email from the family member I emailed back. The family member printed out the email and showed it my friend. I wasn't expecting that but it was okay. I wrote another email saying I was thinking about her, sending my love, and would be available whenever she felt up to company whether that was in weeks or months. The family member showed that to her too and wrote back saying she seemed glad to hear from me.

I imagine the family is grappling with doctors, diagnoses, treatment options, etc. I'm staying on the sidelines and/or following their lead. But I think after my friend is home in a few weeks I may be able to be helpful

Do any of you have experience with this sort of thing? If so, what kind of actions would you have appreciated? I think I'm most worried about saying the wrong thing and upsetting her.

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I have a close family member who has been in and out of hospitals for depression and substance abuse. The best advice I can offer is to not walk on eggshells and to try and be as natural as you always have been with her. I do not mean to say you should be over inquisitive but you should also try not to avoid the issue either. Let her lead the discussions about her medical issues and listen and support when able. She is still the same woman who you have been friends with, she is just getting treatment to continue to be that woman. I hope her recovery is quick and complete but it may not be. Mental illness is a lifelong condition but it is very managable.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2012 at 6:46PM
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I'm sorry to hear about your friend & that they want you to be there but sounds like they're being secretive about why she's there. I honestly dislike them showing her your emails without asking you 1st & I'm not sure I'd keep communication open until they clued me in more because I'd be afraid of saying the wrong thing to either person. I'd speak on the phone to them about it & would stop putting anything in writing until they're honest. I had something similar backfire in my face.

Be careful

    Bookmark   October 8, 2012 at 7:28PM
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So sorry to hear about your friend. Is she in your area? Is she allowed visitors? If so, I'd find out if she feels up to seeing you and then make a visit while she's in the hospital. It may mean a great deal to her, especially since she knows you've been involved already. It's probably terribly boring part of the time; maybe plan on going during a meal and chat with her while she eats. Or see if she can go to the dining room, etc. Maybe make and take some cookies, or a good book, some magazines, etc. All of this, of course, depends on the type of admission that was made.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2012 at 9:32PM
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Whatever you do, realize that it's not something someone can just 'get over' or 'shake off'. Depression, and being hospitalized for it, is very serious (as we have intimately learned with DH's best friend's suicide because of his depression.)

People with depression aren't usually just sitting around crying all the time, but they DO still want to know they're not a paraiah and that people won't avoid them. Just like any good friend with a disease, go visit them (if you're they're allowed visitors). Tell her you're thinking of her and can't wait till you can go to the museum again.

I don't think you can say the 'wrong' thing. Just knowing that you still care about her will mean a lot to your friend and her family, too.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2012 at 10:07PM
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Thanks everyone.

Roarah, Thank you for reminding me I need not walk on eggshells around her. I care about what happened in a general way so that I can understand better what's going on but won't ask for details. If she wants to share anything about her condition that's up to her.

Roselvr, Thank you for that perspective about the email. It did bother me a little, I didn't think the email I wrote to the family member was going to be shown to my friend. Had I known I might have written something different. I will refrain from doing that in the future. I have a feeling any communications will be screened at this point. My friend has no cell phone or email right now which I gather is the policy of the unit however I could be wrong about that. I don't know yet how she feels about being in the hospital, if she went willingly or not.

Olychick, I don't think she's ready for visitors yet but I will definitely remember your suggestions for the future. I was thinking that I might bring her either an art book or a music CD. She also likes yoga and I know there are postures that are supposed to be good for depression. I'm not sure anyone would substitute them for therapy and medication, especially not in a situation as serious as hers, but a little stretching never hurts and I think some mild physical activity is helpful.

Pesky1, I totally agree with you, depression, isn't something you just get over. I do worry I'm not sensitive enough to detect how she's feeling, especially since I didn't notice anything "off" in the weeks leading up to her hospitalization. I've gone through our most recent emails and tried to recall the details of our last meeting and she really didn't mention it.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2012 at 10:39PM
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Perhaps you can call the hospital and, if you can't talk with your friend, leave a message at the nurse's station with your phone number and ask that she call you. I had a friend hospitalized with post-partum psychosis and visited her several times. While I could not offer any therapeutic counseling, I could simply visit non-judgmentally. If she saw things I was unable to see, there was need for me to contradict. We both took comfort in each other's presence, and once she returned to her day to day life, never discussed what she saw that I couldn't. I think that's the essence of an accepting friendship. I know if I ever find myself in a similar situation, I'd hope for someone who could just sit with me and extend peace and love.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2012 at 11:02PM
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You said you weren't expecting them to show it to her; honestly; I would not either because you hope that you replying to offer them support or whatever is between you & whoever is writing.

It sounds like you have not seen anything to be concerned about with her; has the family offered you any information besides depression?

    Bookmark   October 11, 2012 at 9:28AM
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roselvr, to answer your question, no. No one has offered me any more information. I emailed one of her family members, the same one that initially reached out to me, and asked how it was going. They said they were meeting with the doctor to discuss next steps but beyond I interpreted it simply as the family being overwhelmed. I've had family members in the hospital too and I know how confusing it is dealing with doctors, insurance companies, and medical professionals..and how exhausting. So I've sort of laid low and let them take the initiative. If I were to ask more, well how much do you think it is appropriate to ask? She should be home next week, I'm hoping at that point to be in touch.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2012 at 9:18PM
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I would be asking what happened so that I can prepare for when I see her at home. I wouldn't say it like that though.

I understand they're overwhelmed & all of the above but they did reach out to you; so they're thinking straight enough to know you're a person to contact. Have you ever met them? Do you feel she asked them to contact you or that they were going through her personal things (email; cell phone) & found yours?. I don't know the content of any of your messages; but my 1st thought when reading your post was why you & not someone else? While you do travel together; you only see each other once a month & from what you said; you didn't think she was even depressed due to how your last meeting went & the emails you shared. For me personally; my friends know things like that. I don't know her or how she is with you & her other friends if she has any.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2012 at 11:52PM
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All good points roselvr. It was an immediate family member who reached out so they knew about our relationship first hand and how to find me. But yes, as you said, I am thinking that my friend doesn't have many other friends. The family member said I might not have noticed anything out of the ordinary with my friend's behavior or mood because being with me peps her up. I didn't realize that but I do tend to involve her in whatever my particular enthusiasm is at any given time. She is a very intellectual and curious person, very smart and we have common interests and time available for cultural activities, exploring, etc. As for her keeping her interior life to herself, I wonder if there are cultural factors at work. She is not from the US originally. I do wonder why (and regret) that she didn't feel she could or wanted to confide in me if she was feeling so poorly. Once she is home and it is time to see her I will need to know what happened and at that point I think I'll ask direct questions.

    Bookmark   October 12, 2012 at 8:10AM
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