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Things to consider when visiting someone who’s in hospital for a mental health crisis

Seeing a friend or family member struggle with their mental health can be very upsetting, and it’s particularly difficult seeing them hospitalized. As their friend or loved one, you want to say and do the right thing; this can be challenging and overwhelming! Here are some tips you can use to best support them:

  • Make a plan before you visit- having a plan can make the person feel more comfortable and prepared.
    • Keep in mind that they may not feel up to seeing any visitors. That doesn’t mean that they dislike you. They might just need time to settle in to this new environment and to begin to feel more stable. Or they may even want to go about this journey alone.
  • Be flexible- for example, they may say yes to having you visit, but then change their mind.
    • Be prepared if they’re only feeling up to seeing you for a short while or want to change the plans you had. Something may seem okay to you but if they’re not feeling well, it may be too much.
  • Respect their privacy- being hospitalized is often a vulnerable time for a person. Remember that this is their experience and their story, they may choose to tell people where they are, or they may not. It’s up to them to make that decision, not you.
    • Consider having a conversation about what you should say, if people ask you about them-- they’ll appreciate your support and this can bring you some peace of mind.
  • You don’t need to shower them with “gifts” but a small gesture may help- consider bringing some flowers to brighten their room, books for them to read, a puzzle to keep them busy or a blanket to keep them cozy. If you’re having trouble voicing to them how you feel, make a card and bring it to them! These tokens will help to make their space look and feel not so much like a hospital room.
  • Embrace the uncomfortable and the vulnerability- it will feel vulnerable and uncomfortable at times, and there’s nothing wrong with voicing that.
    • Be open and honest with how you’re feeling, but remember to show compassion. They’re likely feeling very vulnerable and uncomfortable themselves.
  • Keep the curiosity to yourself- the hospital setting can be an interesting and intense place. You may be seeing things for the first time and it can be an eye-opening experience. But remember that you are there for someone who’s having an extremely difficult time. Be mindful of where you’re directing your attention. It may seem interesting and “cool” to you, but it’s often a scary and upsetting place for them.
  • Listen- they may not need or want to hear any advice, so offer support through listening! It seems very simple, and could feel like it’s not enough, but it might just be what they need.
  • Understand that they’re more than their hospitalization- you don’t need to only talk about why they’re there, keep the conversation light and talk about some positive things going on. They are your friend/loved one before they are their mental health crisis, treat them like the human they are!
  • Know you cannot “fix” them- you’re not a mental health professional, it’s not your job to take all their pain away and to turn things around for them. They are in safe hands where they are. If you need some guidance, talk to their primary psychiatrist, nurse or counsellor/worker if you have any questions.
  • Practice self-care- it’s important to take care of yourself! Set boundaries and limits if you are feeling overwhelmed. You are not a bad friend or loved one for taking time for you. You will need strength to help support them.
  • Know that this isn’t your fault- you’re not to blame for their hospitalization. Nor should you place blame on them for how they’re feeling.