at your side: in the hospital

you just have to be there

What if we stopped pretending we’re all comfortable being in a hospital or treatment facility when nearly none of us are —whether patient or visitor?

It’s not a natural environment, and it can feel like a completely foreign country where we don’t know the language. It’s not somewhere most people inherently want to go or stay, even if they recognize the importance of being there for their own or a loved one’s health and safety.

Remember, you don’t have to pretend to like the hospital environment — you just have to be there.

discussing disclosure

Inpatient mental health treatment is the most intensive treatment option. Typically these programs integrate several kinds of treatment options including individual therapy, group therapy, behavior modification, art therapy, music therapy, yoga and meditation, and even animal therapy. For people who need professional support and monitoring all hours of the day in order to stabilize their condition or maintain the early stages of recovery, inpatient treatment can be a great, yet very expensive option.

  1. Who should they tell?
    Do they want to tell anyone where they are? Help them develop a list of people who they’d like to tell about their current situation, what their goals are in telling them, and how they expect that person to respond. This will help both of you understand who would be safe to approach and able to provide positive benefit to your friend’s treatment and recovery process.
  2. How should they share?
    Figure out the best method of telling others given the outlets they have available. Face-to-face is often best, but it isn’t always possible. Phone calls can be good, too. If they want to write it, encourage an email over a text, and remind them that communicating tone is going to be just as important as the facts.
  3. Who do they not want to tell and how can you help them keep it private?
    People get to disclose their mental health struggles in their own time to the people they choose. It’s not up to anyone else to out them unless requested to do so by their friend. If there needs to be a cover story, make sure the facts are consistent, and do your best not to say anything that would out them against their wishes.
  4. Maintaining trust: Not outing them
    A big part of maintaining your friend’s trust around disclosure is demonstrating that you won’t out them. Try to resist doing so at all costs; even if your only answer can be, “I don’t know. Maybe you should ask them.”

holding their place on campus

For inpatient mental health treatment, patients live at the treatment facility 24/7 and most often need to take a leave from their studies to complete a course of inpatient treatment.

Here are some ideas for holding your friend’s place on campus while they’re gone.

  1. Think ahead about what it might be like when they return
    Preparing yourself emotionally and thinking about how your boundaries might have to grow and change is important.
  2. Keep a list of keywords or phrases
    These represent information or stories that will be essential for them to know when they return.
  3. Factor them into future planning whenever possible!
    Having something to look forward to goes a long way.
  4. Stay in touch
    This can be hard depending on the restrictions of the treatment facility. Find out what kinds of restrictions there are on phone calls and determine whether email might be a good medium.
  5. Don’t take it personally if you haven’t heard from them in a while
    Let your friend know that you understand none of this is about you, and you’ll be there when they need you. Reassure them that you’re fine, and help relieve some of the guilt they might have for being out of touch.

when they return to campus

It can be a little awkward for everyone when someone returns from time away in treatment. Just accept it and move on. Do your best to catch your friend up, check in with them about how they’re doing and what their comfort level is with various situations. If they aren’t able to jump into the typical campus “going out” scene, get creative and do something fun and atypical that’s safe for everyone.

  1. Welcome them back and keep inviting them to do things
    We’re not talking scheduling big, exciting, out-of-the-ordinary events. Invite them to a meal or movie. Invite them to binge a TV show. They don’t have to accept all of the offers, but they will understand that you want them to be included.
  2. Make sure they’re plugged into resources
    Are they connected to the providers/clinical care they need now that they’re back on campus? Have they visited the disability services office/coordinator on campus? That office might have some valuable resources to offer. Some schools have special programs, resources, or even support groups for students returning to campus from leave. Investigate all the possible available resources and help your friend get connected to them.
  3. Avoid difficult situations together
    If you’re concerned about putting them in a difficult situation, particularly with alcohol or drugs, tell them honestly that you’re concerned or consider not going. Critical note: Don’t make them feel like you changed your plans because of them!
  4. Check in and ask what they want to do
    They may not want to do anything that requires talking–treatment may have them all talked out. If they’re having trouble offering up an activity, give them some options that range in the level of necessary engagement.
  5. Don’t expect miracles
    All of us have fluctuations in our mental health, and it’s normal for people to take steps forward and steps back during their recovery journeys.
  6. Reinforce their courage
    Not everyone seeks help and does the work of treatment, because it takes courage and persistence. Reinforce how courageous they are and what you admire about them.