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Need some support and advice on how to deal with friend currently hospitalized with mental issues(32 Posts)
This is long.
I have a friend, for about 2-3 yrs now. She is a highly accomplished professional, and we both come from the same hometown. When I first got to know her, we were in the same workplace, and she had just recovered from some sort of nervous breakdown, she said as a result of workplace bullying, which had resulted in a period of hospitalization.
We have a pleasant enough friendship, though I would not consider it particularly deep or significant to myself, and often I would part with her thinking ugh I will not hang out with her again. She generally seems more negative than I am, personality-wise, always talking about some feud in her workplace or with her family members (none of whom are here). I also found some of her views on eg refugees or housewives quite disturbing. However I am literally her only friend here, she is nice to my children, occasionally babysitting for me, and also when she is not raging about people, very educated and I often learned something new from talking to her. So I would give her a "pass", and we would hang out every couple of weeks or so, getting a drink or inviting her for dinner etc. Just trying to set out the context of our friendship here.
Fast forward two weeks ago when I received a phone call from someone from the local hospital (small town here), saying she had been hospitalized again in the mental issues ward (that is not its proper name), I am listed as her only emergency contact, could I go visit her, get her clothes etc.
Of course I am very upset and regardless of how I feel about her, I consider it my human duty to visit her, buy her food and snack items, on two occasions where she gave me the key to her place, I went and got her clothes, electronic devices etc. At this point, she is well enough that they let her go out by herself to her own place and get her clothes etc.
I don't much about what is going on with her due to medical confidentiality.
The fact is, at this point, I have visited her a few times, and I am finding visiting her really draining and upsetting. She used to rant before, now it is extremely paranoid and disturbing, of the order of "you need to go with your children to a witness protection program, they are after you" "they forcibly inject me with drugs and confined me in solitary" (is this a thing which still happens?). The second time I was there she told me we were leaving, they had no right to keep her, we went to the entrance -where the security didn't let her leave- she made a scene. I visited her last night, and she was cursing "them", spitting in the air, calling "them" her dogs. It was truly disturbing and I have no idea how to handle it. I left after 20 minutes.
Anyway, I realise I am sounding very selfish, this isn't about me, but that's why I'm posting anonymously here. I feel visiting her is affecting me, but I would feel horribly guilty if I just stopped going. I have no idea how long she will be staying there, not to mention I would feel very anxious if they just released her! I'm also afraid she might "turn" on me and include us- my family, children, in her list of enemies- last night she described how she went to buy a birthday present for my son and got into a fight with -the salesman? Something about how she realised "they" were after her in the toy shop.
I'm sure she is having adequate care and medical treatment- (is she really though?) but on this forum, i want to ask: how do I deal with this situation?
FWIW- i have not told any of my other friends nor intend to about what is going on with her.
I don't know what to say on this one but I'm sure someone will come along here & have good advice.
I know it is hard for you but are you all she has?
Here, in this town yes. She has her colleagues, which according to her are her enemies (although apparently they sent a fruit basket and card to the hospital). No family members- all back in our home town. I don't know if they know or not. Even if they did, they wouldn't be able to travel here due to visa issues. yes- a complicating factor: we are both immigrants here (though not recent ones- she has been here even longer than us).
Maybe give it a bit longer. She obviously needs help and better to have someone come see her she likes than who she fears (like colleagues). - she listed you as a contact so must be a reason.
I know it is hard but if you don't visit will she be alone? you may be just what she needs to get her through this.
Like you said, it is a human duty, and you sound like a good person who cares.
I'm going to respond on this thread, rather than your one in AIBU, as I feel this one is more sensitive.
Don't give more of yourself than you are able to OP. Set your boundary and if you can't cope then don't go and visit. There are altenative ways to support her though. Text, phone, write, send little gifts. All those things count as supprt too.
I would think that you should applaud yourself and try to just see her behaviour as a symptom of her condition, rather than it being 'her'.
It must be very hard to deal with, however, she obviously has no-one else. So sad.
Try to see her as an ill person, rather than seeing her behaviour as being 'her'.
And can I just say thank you for being kind to her. Because it is so so difficult to suffer from mental illness. Your kindness probably means the world to her. If she is a danger to society, she will not be discharged, so please try not to worry.
Thank you for being so kind.
I,m an RMN I worked in the wards you describe fit many years it can be very distressing for visitors ,under the mental health act your friend might have been forcibly injected with medication if she needed it ,the last ward I worked on had a seclusion room that was used when people were very unwell and needed to be away from other patients they are monitored at all times by staff however so this might be what she means by solitry confinement hopefully her mental state will improve soon and your visit's won't be so distressing .
Thank you for the feedback. I told her last night that I can't visit until next week because we are out of town over the weekend (all true). I will text her occasionally. I am also a bit worried with christmas coming up- ordinarily i would've invited her over to our place for dinner (she came last year)- what an awful time to be alone in a town where you feel everyone is your enemy and in a mental ward
basically- yeah just very upsetting for me.
She sounds very unwell.
it must be hard to keep visiting when she is clearly challenging to be around but being in a mental health ward can be very isolating and frightening, you may be one of the few people she does actually trust right now. Often people experiencing paranoid thoughts can be very mistrustful of the very people trying to help them so being in hospital can very very, very scary.
Obviously you have no obligation to do anything, and it sounds like you have done a lot thus far If you don't feel able to visit, then that is absolutely your choice but as I said earlier it may mean a lot to her to have you visit, even if it is only every now and again.
That's a very good point about trying to distinguish her behaviour from "her"- I think because she was a fairly negative person as I described above, I can't help seeing her behaviour now as coming from "her" rather than just an illness like cancer or heart problems.
I've actually told my family that she has been hospitalized due to heart condition since I just didn't feel able to cope with any commentary which might come if I told them what was actually going on with her. Also because I guess she will continue to visit us when she is out, and I'm afraid this would colour their perception of her. I don't know. basically i haven't seen anything like this before.
I wonder if she would give permission for the staff to talk to you, or even if you could have a chat with someone in general terms about the condition she has? From what you've said it sounds like she's in the throes of a psychotic illness, probably schizophrenia with paranoid symptoms. That's really hard for anyone to deal with. I don't think it would be unreasonable for you to step back a bit if you feel you can't cope; her reality is very distorted at the moment and she may not necessarily be getting much from the visits. You could still help out in practical ways, as you have been doing.
I don't think I could find out more info about her health- when I called the ward to see if I can visit or not, they told me they can't even tell me that much, and I should just show up and security will let me in if she can visit. Luckily the hospital is short drive away from us.
Honestly I don't think my visits were very helpful either, but I wasn't sure if that was just me being selfish or reluctant to go there, trying to justify it.
I agree with Cel that your friend is suffering from a psychotic illness (as in being out of touch with reality) and when very ill they will make very bizarre comments and have delusions. It's a horrible mental illness but the meds do work well so long as patients continue to take them once they get home. It sounds like she has been hospitalised under a Section of the Mental Health Act and this usually happens because people who are psychotic don't realise there is anything wrong with them.
I agree with others that you should only support your friend in a way that's manageable to you. While she is very poorly your visits won't be much help to her, but once the meds kick in there should be a big improvement. Are you in the UK? If so you could look on the MIND website about psychotic illness.
Thanks for the advice everybody.
she does say that there is nothing wrong with her- and she said last night (which I can see now is perhaps the most disturbing one so far for me) that she will take the meds until she gets home and then she will stop.
Small town Canada now- used to live in UK.
I think so far things which have distressed me: 1-seeing a friend who is competent, well-paid, highly-educated in a well-respected job in this state- I guess, if I ever thought about it, I would have thought mental diseases were for homeless or addicts etc.
2- Trying to think how to help while acknowledging visiting her is upsetting to me.
3- Trying not to think about her while going about my day.
4-acknowledging the fact that she isn't a very pleasant person when she was well is affecting how I feel about her now, but realising it shouldn't.
it's very hard supporting someone with a serious mental illness and your friend sounds psychotic and therefore v poorly (which ime as a visitor is v disturbing). It's great you have been around for her but I can well imagine it's not an appealing prospect. Not sure how often you've been visiting but may be reduce it so it feels more manageable - down to once a week /fortnight depending. As others have said a text can make a big difference too. If you haven't already, do clarify with the hospital the nature /extent of your friendship.
I really hope she gets the treatment and support she needs and that you can find a manageable way of being there for her to whatever degree is possible. Take care.
I think one reason I am feeling guilty about not wanting to visit her at least not every few days as I have been, is that I absolutely know, if it was eg my sister/mom/best friend I wouldn't even be having this conversation about what is "manageable" for me- I would be there for them wholly without reservation and wouldn't even think ugh well I never liked her THAT much and she said something mildly racist once about a chinese co-worker or syrian refugees once oh this is so upsetting for me. But I guess it is true that I have to disassociate how I feel about her as a person with the fact of her illness now, and that rationally speaking, I can't treat everyone as if they were my mom!
Your number 4 about her not being a pleasant person may be unfair. You met her shortly after some sort of breakdown and have only known her a short time. It is entirely possible that she has never truly been well for the entire time you have known her.
Or you may be right and she is not very nice. I don't know!
I don't really know what to say about whether you should keep visiting or not, that's really up to you.
I have been as ill as your friend in the past. I consider myself to have been lucky in that I had family support and managed to avoid hospital. Even so, it was dreadful. I would not wish it upon anybody, ever. To be as ill as she is, in a foreign country, more or less alone, in hospital, must be unimaginably awful for her. Whatever is going on inside her head will be absolutely real to her and be in no doubt that paranoia is terrifying and there is no escape from these thoughts, even when sleeping IME.
However, I can also see that it is extremely difficult for those round about. I could write pages about what it feels like to be in that state, but it's just one of those things that people can probably never understand unless they've been there.
Have you any idea if any of the practical stuff is being looked after? Rent/bills etc. Last thing she needs is to leave hospital to find she's been kicked out of her home or even just to have to face the guddle that things can get into when admin has been neglected for a while. I have no idea how it works where you are, but can maybe a solicitor be appointed to deal with this stuff? Assuming she has funds to allow this of course, but you mention a high achieving professional job.
Yes, I can see how awful it must seems to mention her "unpleasantness" in this situation- I was only trying to put our relationship in context and establish that I do not consider her a particularly close or deep friend. I also think it is true what you said- she can't have been fully or wholly well during the past months or even year.
I don't think she would have a problem with rent or bills- she mentioned going on some sort of 3 months sick leave or something. But it is a good useful suggestion, and next time I talk to her, I will ask if she needs me to follow up on any of that stuff. She has wifi and laptop in there (although she told me she doesn't use it because it is all bugged)
It is a relief to type this all out because I've actually told noone about it in my own family/social circle (see above)- and I am a rather "gregarious" and extrovert person myself who likes sharing experiences and chatting. And I have witnessed absolutely nothing like this before- I've worked in a refugee camp, I've dealt with domestic violence, dreadful family rows, cancer, other surgeries / sickness in close family, but this really shook me- I find her words and her image coming in my head during the day. Especially the visit from last night, she was heavily made up, hair done, dressed very professionally and nicely, gold jewellery, and sitting on her bed ranting. I have to add the ward itself is rather horrible- exactly what you could imagine a mental ward to be (beige/grey everywhere, and sliding movable plastic curtains on frames).
I hate to pick up on this but I do think it's important to point out that mental illness affects at least 1 in 4 people.
Psychosis is less common but it can affect anyone from any walk of life. It's no reflection on them as an individual and the experience can be absolutely terrifying.
It's a shame you don't feel able to talk about it in real life because you obviously care a lot and it does sound like you could do with some real life support to talk through your own feelings You may be surprised to realize that family and friends have more experience and understanding of mental illness than you expect. Unfortunately the stigma does remain And people are less likely to be open about their own experiences unless prompted.
The way your friend is talking now about not planning to take medication once she is discharged is likely because she is in the throes of her illness, paranoid and without any awareness she is ill. This may well change as her mental health improves.
I think you're an absolute star for supporting her in this time, I've been hospitalised and it was truly terrifying, I was lucky to have supportive family, but I can't imagine going through this alone. If you can manage to find a way to make it work so you can see her without it impacting too much on you, then please do, but I get that it must be really hard for you too.
One thing I feel I must warn you about, is that once she's better she might start to distance herself from you, more out of embarrassment that you've seen her at her worst, or just wanting to remove herself from everything that reminds her of that dark period (which might explain why she has no-one else now, if she had a similar episode previously). If she does, try not to take it personally, it's just how some people cope.
Thanks for the kind messages of support. It is really good to hear that you can acknowledge that it is a hard experience to visit her (though of course absolutely nothing compared to what she is going through obviously), and that it is not just me wanting to not go/not caring/stepping back.
That is also a very protip= about how she may act towards me after her release- thanks for the heads up.
I think also to protect her confidentiality/privacy, this one thing that I should not talk about with people in real life- I don't know why it sounds ok to say "oh so-and-so was hospitalized with a heart condition", but if you say "oh so and so was hospitalized because she has had some sort of mental breakdown"- it sounds very different. I know logically it shouldn't and you should expect the same amount of sympathy and support but I don't think it goes down like that.
Oh and not to mention she actually told me "not to tell anyone" the second time I visited her- which was when I reassured her I wouldn't, and I just told my family it was a heart problem.
I hope mumsnet doesn't count
Eve - it's a sad fact of mental illness, that people are scared of it.
I actually had this conversation with a neighbour back home only a few weeks ago. Her SIL has suffered from schizophrenia since her twenties (now in her sixties). As my neighbour said to me, if I said to anyone 'oh, Mary is gone into hospital with a heart attack, everyone would be like oh - is she ok - hope she gets better soon, but if I say Mary is in the psychiatric hospital again - people just say OH'.
As harsh as it sounds, protect yourself.
Don't get drawn into her delusions. Just see them for what they are. Symptoms.
I believe people with dementia can be hard for adult children to deal with too.
It is upsetting and you are doing a BRILLIANT JOB being there for her, despite not knowing her too well.
In practical terms, things like towels, underwear, face creams, makeup, etc., may be things she runs out of in there. If she's used to Clarins, and only gets a pound shop version when she runs out, it may be very hard for her.
I've been in a psychiatric ward and it is one of the worst places to be. I imagine jail to be similar. Other patients can scare you too.
I wasn't too bad though so any visitors were such a reprieve to the humdrum of pacing corridors.
I hate mental illnesses. They are cruel.
Also - just to acknowledge - it must be horrific for your colleague if she's in the throes of paranoia and delusions. I hope the doctors can sort her meds out soon.
When I was in hospital there was another patient convinced that the council was actually a terrorist group. He was petrified.
Also - bottled water, chocolate and crisps were lovely to receive.
The diet in a psychiatric hospital is rudimentary and basically given on the premise that most meds can't be given on an empty stomach so you are sort of watched to see you eat something before being administered meds - usually you have your meals then your meds. Then you are watched to ensure you swallow the meds. Another common delusion is that patients feel they are being drugged. Or that they're going to be kept in there for life. It's a scary scary terrifying time.
Eva- that was something she was telling me the very first day I visited her- that her colleagues were accusing her of being a terrorist. And she kept saying- do I look like a terrorist to you? I guess from a sociological standpoint, it's fascinating how individual mental diseases pick up and reflect back our society-wide paranoias and obsessions.
I actually bought her some drugstore lip-goop and hand cream (I had noticed her lips were very drying and cracking on the first day)- but since then whenever I visited she was fully made-up- I will ask her next time if she needs any particular brand. Doing this kind of thing feels so much better than sitting there listening to her
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