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6 Ways to Give Support When Someone's Partner Is in a Psychiatric Hospital

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When the partner of a friend or neighbor is sick and needs to be hospitalized, people often do anything they can to help out. When the partner is in a psychiatric hospital, though, it can be harder to know how to help.

Often, only the closest friends and family are aware of the hospitalization, largely due to fear of stigma. When others find out, they sometimes freeze up because they don’t know what to do. That leaves the partner who’s not in the hospital feeling like they don’t have a lot of support. However, mental illness is far more common than most people realize.

I have taken my experiences, and the experiences of some friends with similar situations, and created a list of suggestions for how to support us while our partner is in the psychiatric hospital.

1. Reach out to us. If we let you know about the hospitalization, it is because you are trusted, and because we want support. Asking how we are doing, or if there’s anything you can do to help, are great places to start.

2. If you can do it, offer up specific help. Offer to come over or go out to dinner together. It can get lonely, and I know I appreciate company. Offer to help with household tasks. Sometimes it can be overwhelming, because all the tasks that were shared by two people are now up to one person. Depending on what was going on before the hospitalization, household chores may have been neglected in the weeks leading up to the crisis as well.

3. If there are kids, offer to babysit. Some psychiatric units may have strict rules that do not allow children, and a lack of childcare can make it hard to take advantage of visiting hours. If there are no kids, offer to walk the dog or feed the cats, as the responsibilities of pets can also make it difficult to make the best of visiting times.

4. It’s OK to ask questions, but don’t push or pressure us. Ask us how our partner is doing, but don’t pry for specifics about what happened or what will happen next. If we are comfortable, we may choose to share these things with you on our own terms, but respect our boundaries.

5. Do not under any circumstances put our partner down. This should go without saying, but it sadly, needs to be said. Even if you are just looking out for us, validate our feelings around what’s happening in our lives without taking it to the next level and highlighting our partner’s flaws.

6. Ask us how we are doing. Our loved one is hospitalized, but we have probably been riding out the crisis with them, worrying about them, arguing with them, holding their hand. There are bound to be mixed emotions, because we are relieved they are safe now, but we may be sad and missing them, or hurting from things that have happened in the course of the partner’s illness, or anxious about what the future looks like.

On top of that, we can have mental health issues of our own, which may flare up during these stressful times. Make sure we know you value our well-being and give us a gentle reminder to make sure that we are engaging in our own self-care. We may respond in an emotionally closed-off way, or we may spill out so much that it takes you by surprise, but regardless of our response, it means so much that you asked.

Image via Thinkstock Images

Originally published: August 20, 2016
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