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What It’s Like Being Discharged From the Hospital After Mental Health Treatment

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If you’ve been diagnosed with a mental condition or disorder, getting discharged from the hospital can be pretty scary. Let’s say you’ve been under a doctor’s care for a month or two. During your stay in the hospital, you felt listened to, cared about and generally protected from the harsh realities of the outside world. What really happens after you’re discharged? Why is it so difficult to return to the community of which you once felt a part?

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Follow-up Care
Questions are many and answers are few. Do I have a plan of action or better yet, do I have the energy for a plan of action? Is there someone to help me cope with the daily grind? Who should I share this information with? How do I deal with the stigma of mental illness? How am I going to cope with suicidal ideations?

I began to wonder if there’s any hope for recovery, but nothing is forthcoming. Research has confirmed there is a huge gap in mental health delivery after patients are discharged.

Answers to most of these questions are as elusive as an overburdened social worker. Health care professionals working in psychiatry must maintain personal boundaries in order to be useful. On one occasion, after completing a series of sessions with a social worker, I went for a hug, and she stepped back and said “No.” On the face of it, it’s understandable. But I had a need for connection. This is the point when I realized that I was in charge of my healing and only I could decide what was the best action to take. Shields up.

When I finally did meet with my psychiatrist, I asked for specific tools to help me cope. She made it as simple as she could: diet, exercise and engagement. For diet: fruits and vegetables, lean meats and other proteins. For exercise: walking, sit-ups, pushups and deep knee-bends. For engagement, she recommended certain Meetup groups that might keep me engaged socially. I checked out an Improv group that meets locally every week. It works for me and I’m still connected.

Family Supports
No doubt the entire family is aware of my situation. But all they know is that I had a breakdown and a stay in the hospital. They don’t want to know any more than that. I can almost hear the sigh of relief that it wasn’t them. I’m feeling ashamed and embarrassed about the whole thing and just want it all to go away. I had to simply accept that this was my situation and deal with it the best I could.

There is a phrase often spoken of on the mental ward: you have to go through it to get over it. Whenever I encountered disappointment, I would embrace it. I didn’t try to suppress it or even deny it. To be honest, it takes a lot of energy to face these events on a daily basis without the remotest possibility of success. So, I keep repeating it like a mantra — “Go through it to get over it.”

If you happened to make a friend or two while in care, you’re lucky, and the friendship may continue and give you a forum for talking things through. I met a man who is 40 years my junior and while in care, we got on like a house on fire. Our jovial interactions kept everyone entertained. I realized afterward that it was my manic side that was engaged and once my meds took over, my moods were moderated somewhat.We stay in touch and he keeps me feeling young, even if it’s just a distraction.

I also made a friend on one of the dating sites. Believe it or not, we both decided to set our personal boundaries temporarily aside and eventually disclosed our mental health issues once trust had been established. We haven’t looked back, and our friendship is getting stronger each day.

Next Steps
Outpatient services is where I originally fell through the cracks. My general practitioner, long before knowing of my ultimate diagnosis, set up an appointment with a psychiatrist that would assess my condition and make recommendations. I learned after my discharge that he only did assessments and since I’d had one at a hospital, there was no need to continue to see him. The operative term I should have been using was “follow-up care.”

As a result, after discharge, I had nowhere to go. I felt abandoned and alone. I contacted the coordinator of the psychiatric unit and told her my story. It was only after I said the only thing I can do is go to the emergency department and get readmitted with suicidal ideations. I got an appointment right away.

In terms of outpatient services, we should be looking for the types of services that keep us engaged. For example, I found a cleaning service that only employed survivors of mental health struggles to clean the homes of disabled people. They also do snow removal as well. It’s publicly funded and pays minimum wage. It serves two purposes for me: gets me out of the house and helps me to interact with others with similar mental health issues. It also addresses ongoing feelings of shame or helplessness and keeps me going in the right direction.

Photo by Nik Shuliahin via Unsplash.
Originally published: December 4, 2019
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