Unforsaken: Bringing God’s love to a friend in the Mental Health Inpatient Unit
“God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’” Hebrews 13:5
When someone is admitted to a Mental Health Inpatient Unit (sometimes still known as the psychiatric ward), it can feel as if they have really hit rock bottom. If it happened to one of your friends, would you know how to help? Here are a few ideas…
Understand what a ‘Mental Health Inpatient Unit’ (MHIPU) is and why people are admitted
The MHIPU is a ward for people who have severe mental illness which cannot be easily managed at home. Care is provided by a team of specialist mental health nurses and nursing assistants, occupational therapists and social workers, led by a consultant psychiatrist.
Some people have seen movies like ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ and expect an MHIPU to be chaotic; in fact, it is usually quite a peaceful place with staff working hard to maintain an environment which helps people to recover. Patients wear day clothes and follow a strict routine including activities geared towards their rehabilitation and return to society.
Reasons for admission include:
- Assessment: ‘Paul’ is hearing voices and thinks that his neighbours have ‘bugged’ his television. He needs to be assessed to find out the cause of his psychosis.
- Treatment: ‘Monica’ has depression and her antidepressants aren’t working. She needs to be in hospital to try a new drug combination so doctors can see how she responds.
- Respite: ‘Annie’ suffers from bipolar disorder and is beginning to relapse because of stresses at home. She is admitted to hospital for some rest.
- Safety: ‘Charlie’ has been struggling with suicidal thoughts. The Mental Health Inpatient Unit is a safe place for him until the thoughts become less intense.
Most patients are there voluntarily, but in some cases a person may be ‘sectioned’. This means that they are detained in hospital against their will because they have a mental illness and are at risk of harming themselves or someone else.
- For the patient, that they may know that God has neither left them nor forsaken them, and that they will respond well to treatment
- For the medical team, that they may be wise and know how best to manage the illness
- For the patient’s carers, that they too will know God’s presence, and that they might have stamina as they visit the hospital and take care of things at home
If you regularly pray for the sick at church services, ask your friend if they would like their name to be included. Treat those with mental illness just as you would those with physical illness.
Keep in touch
- Take a minute to send a text message saying that you’re thinking of your friend and praying
- Send a nice card with a bible verse by mail as an encouraging surprise.
- Check whether they would like a quick phone call now and again.
The psychiatric ward can be associated with stigma and some people are anxious about visiting. Remember that Jesus was the ultimate dispeller of stigma. He brought healing and hope to those on the margins, including a lady who was ‘unclean’ – and stigmatised by her society – because of constant menstrual bleeding (Mark 5:25).
Be aware that visiting in a MHIPU is different to visiting a medical ward:
- Visiting hours are limited but a pastoral care worker can usually visit at any agreed time.
- The unit will be locked, so a nurse will let you in and out.
- Visiting takes place in a communal area under observation by nurses.
- You can’t bring certain items – plastic bags or anything made of glass, for example – into the unit.
- An alarm might sound while you are there. In this case, you may see nurses running to deal with an incident. Stay calm: the staff are experts and will restore order quickly.
Check first that your friend is feeling up to a visit and be prepared to accept them just as they are. If they are subdued, you might need to do the talking – bring news from your church family. If they are sedated, be a comforting presence. If they are frightened, reassure them. And if they want to talk, listen.
You might want to share a bible verse or two, but remember that they won’t be able to take much in. They will, however, remember that you were there for them, bringing God’s love.
Supporting your friend’s ‘leave’
As your friend improves, they will start to get periods of ‘leave’ from the MHIPU in preparation for re-entering society. At this stage, you might support their recovery by offering to take them out for a walk or a cup of coffee instead of visiting in the ward.
When your friend is discharged
Don’t assume that your friend is totally recovered when they are discharged from hospital; sometimes this can be the hardest time as the 24/7 support stops. Keep on praying, messaging, visiting and helping them to get out and about.
Remember that going back to church can be one of the hardest things to do. Sit with them, include them in conversations, and help them to identify ways to use their gifts.
Supporting someone who has been admitted to the MHIPU is a ministry unto Jesus himself:
(The righteous asked…) “When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you? The King [Jesus] will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” Matthew 25:39-40
And it will mean the world to your friend who might otherwise have felt abandoned and forsaken.