Guest Post: Helping Mental Health Inpatients

Here’s another brilliant guest post from Sharon, who’ll be releasing an AMAZING book on mental health next year.   (Details to follow). Thank you my friend!

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.

Pray!

  • 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.

Visit

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.

Conclusion

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.

 

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2 thoughts on “Guest Post: Helping Mental Health Inpatients

  1. Thank you Sharon for another great post, and thank you Emma for publishing it.

    I am currently an inpatient. I tried to gain voluntary admission but I was told that I was not ill enough. A&E became exasperated with me.

    Yet after a short moment in another town, where I was put on a section 2 detention (and the police officers who drove me to Hastings did so only on the understanding that I would *not* be placed on section), I was returned to my hometown. My rights are now severely restricted.

    The nature of the DOP has changed rapidly since my last major sequence of “breakdowns” in 2005.

    There have been numerous improvements and many of the staff have true care and kindness in their hearts. I am appreciative of them.

    I have been placed on aspirin for my heart condition, which is the only medication I am voluntarily accepting. I have refused the statins. I think I am still prescribed the haloperidol depot. I hope that can be reduced.

    Other useful meds such as tea, coffee, tobacco, tonic water, I need to acquire myself. I am hoping the staff will look into making some valerian available to me for help with sleep.

    Much has been improved but much is still wanting.

  2. Some comments from me, the True Mark, known by the surname starting with H to his family both natural and in Christ, but I no longer use my given name online.

    I agree with some of this post. There are parts, however, which I profoundly disgaree with.

    The psychiatric ward I am under is a high stimulation place. Heavy surveillance, constant stress and severe restrictions on gospel work.

    Some staff are good at their jobs. Some are not. Some staff are loving. Some are not. Some bully and intimidate, yet I understand that the staff, also, are under extreme duress.

    OT work is excellent yet not highly structured, which is most suited to a mental ward. Yet works of kindness are extremely restricted: I have had gifts of comfort go missing between wards when placed in staff care and my self-medications may have been used by others whilst in staff care.

    I have little hope of any provision of my self-medication by staff. I would not personally use valerian for I know when I must keep awake and be praying for those I have ministered to.

    Blessings, Emma. Beware wolves. Beware theives which come early yet are not true.

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