The first time your child is admitted to a psychiatric hospital is a harrowing experience. Unlike a medical hospital, a psychiatric hospital has security measures that are necessary for the protection of both patients and staff. Visiting hours are often restricted to just a few days a week, an hour of two at a time. Patients are strip searched for bruises, cuts, contusions, and contraband. Wards are locked. Leaving your child behind in that type of environment can produce a level of sorrow and anxiety many parents understandably find hard to bear. Here are a few things to keep in mind to help you and your child get through the first psychiatric hospitalization.
- Stop blaming yourself: You haven’t failed your child. Your child has an illness and needs treatment. Your child isn’t ill because of your parenting. You wouldn’t blame yourself if your child needed treatment for cancer or some other physical illness. Repeat after me – I HAVEN’T FAILED MY CHILD. You are ensuring your child gets the necessary treatment for his or her illness. You are a GOOD parent.
- Ask questions: If you haven’t been through this before, you don’t know all that it entails. If you don’t understand something, ask. Ask if your child will room alone or have a roommate. Ask the name of your child’s assigned psychiatrist and case worker. Ask what personal items, clothing, and hygiene items your child is allowed to have. Ask when phone times and visiting hours are. If you think of more questions later, call and ask them.
- Know your rights: Just because your child is in the hospital doesn’t mean you stop being his or her parent. You have the right to approve or deny medication changes for your child. You have the right to be contacted when your child is chemically or physically restrained. You have the right to be consulted about your child’s treatment plan. Your child has the right to phone calls, mail, clothing, and personal items, no matter how well or poorly treatment is going. If you have questions or feel your or your child’s rights are being violated, contact your child’s case worker, the hospital’s patient advocate, or contact the Joint Commission, that accredits psychiatric hospitals across the country.
- Visit: Attend visiting hours as often as you can. Between being separated from you and being in therapy and group sessions, your child may be feeling anxious and vulnerable. Your visits are a way to keep the connection between the two of you. Most visiting rooms have games you can play with your child and by playing a board game, you can give your child a way to talk to you without the pressure of “reporting.” If siblings are willing and able to visit, encourage them to do so. Same with grandparents.
- Take care of you: Your child is safe and in professional care. Take advantage of this time to care for yourself and your other children. Having a child in a psychiatric crisis is stressful on the entire family. While you have this break in the chaos, use the time to have a peaceful dinner or take in a movie. Enjoy the quiet and don’t feel guilty. Self care is vital.
- Prepare for aftercare: Psychiatric hospitals are required to discharge a patient once they are no longer a threat to themselves or others. That point often comes long before stabilization. In all likelihood your child will require follow up care either with their own psychiatrist, in a day hospitalization program, or both. Knowing that the hospitalization is just the first step in thwarting a psychiatric crisis helps you understand the continuum of treatment.