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Remembering Those In Mental Health Facilities

Dyane Leshin-Harwood

I am going to touch upon a subject in which I might offend someone I know. I’m willing to take this chance, however, for if I influence anyone who may someday take action if given the chance, I will be thrilled. If someone you know is hospitalized in a locked-down mental health ward and she is allowing visitors, GO FOR A BRIEF VISIT!
If someone you know is hospitalized in a locked-down mental health ward and is not allowing visitors, SEND HER A CARD OR SMALL GIFT, OR CALL TO LEAVE YOUR FRIEND A MESSAGE! 
Apart from my husband and two daughters (pictured with me last month in Hawaii), I did not allow visitors nor did I receive any cards or small presents during my five lengthy hospitalizations. Now, you read that correctly, I told my husband that I did not want visitors.  I felt too depressed to put on a brave face to interact with anyone I knew outside in my real life. But I would have appreciated receiving personalized cards or little gifts such as a book or magazines or any gift item allowed in a locked-down ward. (No sharps!)
When I was hospitalized in a sterile, frightening setting among strangers, I felt utterly forgotten by the world. The phrase less than zero comes’ to mind. Unfortunately, the staff at the hospital where I was at last summer did not even take their mental health unit patients outside to get fresh air and natural light. There was no outdoor courtyard either.
There were very few daily group activities occurring there, although for the astronomical price they charged, they should have offered a high tea, massage and pedicures. On a serious note, I believe it would have been helpful to have pet therapy in which service animal pets were brought in to patients to give them some authentic affection. Music therapy would have been a blessing as well – the steady drone of the television in the main room wasn’t doing anyone any favors.
After I was released, I referred to this place as The Kennel. Yes, I sound like an ingrate because I needed twenty-four-hour care to remain safe and they provided that. Nonetheless, I know with every fiber of my being that if you stayed there for a handful of hours you would understand why I feel the way I do.
I am still puzzled why certain family members and friends of mine did not try to reach me when I was hospitalized in one of the ways noted in this post. I think that if I suffered cancer or a less-stigmatized physical illness, these people would have called me or sent cards, flowers, and the like. Due to the intense social stigma regarding mental illness, I know I shouldn’t blame my friends and relatives for ignoring me when I was hospitalized. 
It has been almost half a year since I was cooped up in that unforgettable atmosphere, and it’s time to let go of my rankled state. Time will help soften my hurt feelings. As long as my depression is in remission, if anyone I know (even remotely) is housed in such a place as the one I describe here, at the very least I will send that patient a card to impart these messages:

You are not forgotten you are in my thoughts for speedy healing you will get better!
All this sounds like a trivial issue, but I don’t believe it is.  Each of us matters, and to be remembered during a time of such deep darkness is a gift that will be treasured for many years.


Great post, Dyane! I think a lot of friends and family don't realize that they CAN visit, or they are too scared. This was an important subject to write about and I'm so glad you did.

Hey Jenn, I think that's you, one of my favorite authors/"This Is My Brave" show creator! Thank you so much for your comment. You bring up an excellent point of the fear people have in visiting mental health units. I am hoping that with time there will be a greater awareness of the fact that visitors are allowed in such places and that it's not scary a la "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". I couldn't help but remember that 28 years ago when I was 16, my Dad was at UCLA's NPI mental hospital for bipolar treatment. My very first instinct was to visit him right away and I acted on it. It actually never occurred to me that I wouldn't be allowed to do so - plus I was naive in other areas, i.e. he asked me to bring him his Stradivarius violin and I said "Sure". (I got in trouble for that one.) Luckily I was right in my assumption that I could visit my Dad sans million dollar violin, but I could have been wrong about their policy. In any case, I'm hoping with all my heart for a sea change in how people perceive the mentally ill when they are hospitalized, and how visits and other gestures can make a profound difference.

It's worse than shameful the way you were treated! That's the type of thing that keeps others from seeking the help that they really need. Thanks so much for sharing.

I believe in your message. Thank you for discussing such a critical subject.

Thank you Bipolar Too/Roger and Craig for your support. I'm going to keep fighting for everything I wish had happened for me when I was so sick. Nothing can stop me! And if you want to read more of my work, please visit my blog "Birth of a New Brain - Healing from Bipolar" where I write about bipolar and non-bipolar related subjects daily. Take care! : )

You hit the nail on the head!

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