How to cope when your child is hospitalized for a behavioral health concern
It can be scary and overwhelming when your child or teen is hospitalized for any reason, but when it’s related to behavioral health concerns, it can be especially frightening. You may be feeling anxious because you’re not sure what to expect, or relief that your child is in a safe space. Or maybe you’re experiencing some anger or questioning how you’ll ever get through this. Some parents find themselves asking if they could have done more or if this is their fault.
Rest assured that all of these reactions are completely understandable. Honestly, as a parent and a mental health professional, I get it. Navigating all of the unknowns, subsequent shame, rules, and paperwork can be completely overwhelming. As stressful as it is, the Bend Health team is here to remind you that there is support available for you. And we’re here to provide you with some tips and tools to help your family get through this time in the best way that you can.
Tip #1: Take care of yourself
- Ask for help. Tap into your network of family and friends to help with everyday tasks, like grocery shopping or looking after your other children, so that you have time and energy to focus on things like treatment and visitation.
- Talk to your supervisor. If you feel comfortable doing so, let your work supervisor know that you’ll likely need to take some time off to focus on your situation.
- Find a support group. Ask your child's treatment team about caregiver support groups in the hospital or your community. Connecting with others who have faced similar challenges can be healing.
- Talk to someone. Confide in trusted family members, close friends, or mental health professionals to process your feelings.
- Eat well and get enough rest. During stressful times, you may feel tired and become more susceptible to illness. While it’s not always easy, try your best to get plenty of rest and to eat nourishing meals.
- Practice coping skills: Use a journal to write about your experience, your thoughts, and your feelings. Find what makes you feel the most calm — things like taking walks, listening to music, or practicing breathing exercises can help.
Tip #2: Communicate with the hospital and your child
- Provide information. Make sure the hospital treatment team has the most up-to-date, accurate information about your child. Let the team know about shifts in their personality, past treatments, and what has worked and what has not. Sharing personal tidbits, like their favorite sports or hobbies, will help the team to customize the care plan and build a better relationship. You are your child’s best advocate, so try not to worry if you don't have the proper clinical terminology for what is happening.
- Get involved. Ask questions about the treatment process at every step of the way. If you ever feel excluded, don’t be afraid to speak up and tell the team. You know your child best, and your opinion matters.
- Reassure your child. Remind them that you are here for them, and that you will be their advocate and a part of their team. Your child needs to know that you support them and the professionals working with them to keep them safe. A united front will promote confidence and make the situation feel less stressful for everyone involved.
- Understand your child's perspective. Your child may feel angry or say hurtful things to you, and that can be heartbreaking. Recognize that they are going through a difficult time and are likely reacting to the loss of control.
- Visit and write to them. You may be able to visit your child during certain hours at the hospital. Make sure to reassure and encourage them during your time together. If the hospital allows, send handwritten messages of encouragement to your child. Keep telling them you love them and that things can get better. Remind them that they are just in a tough spot and that we all need extra support sometimes.
Tip #3: Follow the advice of the professionals
- Follow through. It’s completely natural that you may feel tempted to pull your child out of treatment before the care team feels ready. Remember that they have insight and professional knowledge regarding children's behavioral health treatment, and following their suggestions can prevent relapse and a potential need for future hospitalization.
- Understand the plan. If you disagree with the treatment team's guidance, take time to ask questions and learn more about their reasoning. Then, you can offer suggestions about what may help motivate your child.
- Know the next steps. Know the next steps. Once your child is ready to leave, you will most likely have a follow-up care plan and a meeting to discuss the details. Take that time to ask questions and follow through with getting the outside services you need to support your child and keep them safe.
We know that this can be a difficult time and that’s why we’re here to offer support for you and your family. Continue to talk openly with your child about all they are going through, encourage them at every step, and give them the space and time necessary to grow and heal. Oh, and remember to take care of yourself along the way too. Facing these challenges isn’t easy, but with you in their corner and the right support systems in place, your child can get on the path to feeling better.