There are times when someone we love and care about becomes unwell – falls down and is harmed, and frequently embarrassed, by the behavioral symptoms and consequences of illness.
When this happens, it is our responsibility to remain in the light and do everything we can to avoid the darkness of judgment and to keep our keenest focus on what we can do to help.
This is often hard to do. As I write this on the holiest of days, Good Friday, I am reminded that to give of ourselves to those down, downtrodden, unwell not of their own choosing, is a deeply personal and moral obligation: To help, to offer a hand, to cast aside judgment, to do what is right.
What is most important for those of us who have a loved one in need is to remain strong. I am reminded about the admonition given by airline attendants when we fly. If the oxygen masks fall, they say, take yours first, and then take care of your kids when you can.
It is the same with a loved one in need, in hospital perhaps, and deeply unhappy.
Be sure you are strong and able to help. Above all, remember always that you are not a hero. This is not about you. Caring is about our loved one.
So, what are the best steps to take?
First, if our loved one is in hospital, perhaps at the bad end of a mental breakdown, then visit. Talk first to the amazing nurses who do the day-to-day work of patient care. They know. They know that a visit today might not be the best thing. If that is so, then wait. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe the next day. You may yearn to hold your loved one’s hand, but you must accept the decisions of the folks working on the floor.
Second, do what you can to become familiar with the illness at hand and, if you do visit, stay positive. Certain mental illnesses are very complex – bipolar, for example – and you may on your visit be met with anger or resentment. Honour these emotions. Understand them. But at all times be strong. You will be no good if you can’t.
Third, make sure about a realistic discharge plan for your loved one. Insist on that. Continuing care is most important.
Sechelt Hospital is hugely over-burdened. There are too few beds for too many patients. The docs and nurses do as they are able, and are wonderful, but upon discharge many mental health patients end up back where they started – back in unhealthy environments that aggravate symptoms. Funding through Vancouver Coastal Health is woeful, and resources for the establishment and continuity of discharge health and care are not always adequate.
The Sunshine Coast Community Services Society should be your first call. There are a number of programs and workers that can help.
But – and I can’t stress this enough – continuing care and support for a loved one back in the community is up to us. Our loved one will need help with administrative issues, like economic support through the provincial government or legal matters; domestic support for things like shopping and nutrition; social support and continued friendship.
Above all else, be strong for your loved one. Know your limitations, but be as brave and strong as you can. That is love.