I was recently talking with a friend of mine who has schizoaffective disorder and he told me a story about when he was in the hospital. He said, “It was the most lonely time in my life. I was sick and in the hospital with my mental illness at the same time my father had a heart attack and was in the hospital.” He went on to say, “My father got all kinds of cards and gifts, I never got a single card much less a visitor. It was like I didn’t exist.”
It wasn’t the first time I had heard the same theme to a story I too had experienced. Hospitalized: sick, scared, alone and not one word from a loved one. It sure seems like when you have a psychiatric illness people all run for cover. Another friend told me, “It’s like everyone just said, “she’s off the deep end again” and left me to fend for myself.” To which I had no response other than to nod my head silently.
I wonder if we changed the name of mental illness and replaced it with brain disorders would we have more compassion and understanding? Would people start to realize when a person has a psychotic episode his brain malfunctioned not his character? How much has to change in order to receive a card or a get well message instead of a non-compassionate “she’s just crazy” comment?
I don’t claim to have all the answers but I do have strong opinions on the subject. First of all, the last time I remember hearing a friend was in the hospital I immediately felt bad for her. You see when I hear hospital I think sick. I don’t start blaming someone for not taking her medicine-I try and understand what if anything I can do to help.
Second, no matter what the circumstances were for my friend who needed hospitalization I wanted to visit her to show my love and support. She mattered enough to me to to find out about visiting hours and go sit and interact with her for a couple of hours. It was the least I could do. Maybe if I wasn’t as close to her I could have simply sent a card or email or Facebook message – just something to show her I cared.
Third, if someone wants to keep her mental illness a private matter I can still let her know I care. Once again I can send a message and let her know I’m thinking about her.
How many times have you heard the same story about feeling all alone? Isn’t it time for us to stand up and say, “having a friend who cares makes a difference in my recovery?” Is it not time to question the rationale for why anyone would be left alone during a time when she needs the most support? Maybe we simply need to let people know it is perfectly acceptable to send a card to someone in a psychiatric hospital or lying at home suffering in bed from depression. It doesn’t have to be a social taboo. The more we tell people it’s alright the more chances we have for change to occur. Agree?