Inpatient Psychiatry Service | Helping Your Family Cope

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Having a child admitted for a psychiatric hospitalization can put strain on the whole family and affect caregivers' work and personal relationships. It can also be hard to talk about a psychiatric illness outside of the immediate family. It can be helpful to acknowledge the stress of the hospitalization and try to plan ways to cope. Here are some tips:

Prioritize

Most caregivers acknowledge that their family is their number one priority. It is essential that you are involved in your child's treatment and available to support your child during this difficult time during their stay at the Inpatient Psychiatry Service at Boston Children's Hospital.

We can try to schedule meetings at a time that will be least disruptive to your work schedule. Visiting times can be coordinated around family meetings or meals. It is also important to plan for time at home with the rest of the family.

Often, it is difficult to make time for commitments, errands or housework that may be part of your usual routine. Try to prioritize which of these everyday tasks need to be done and which can wait.

Accept help

When a caregiver is focused on supporting a child in crisis, a regular schedule can be stressful or impossible. Some caregivers cannot ask for or accept help, particularly when they are accustomed to juggling busy schedules and have always managed in the past. But this is a time to reach out to family and close friends.

There are many small ways people can offer support. They could watch other children while you are at the hospital or provide transportation to after-school activities. They could make a meal, run errands or walk the dog. They might even take a turn visiting your child in the hospital. People who are concerned about you and your family may be looking for ways to help and often feel reassured if they can contribute.

Schedule special time

Since having a child in the hospital is time and energy consuming, it is important to find time to spend with the rest of the family. Some two-caregiver families find that it is most helpful to have one caregiver plan a special evening with the children at home while the other visits the unit. Also, it is important for caregivers to plan to spend some time alone together to stay connected and support each other

For single-caregiver families, it can be helpful to involve other family members in visiting or helping the children at home so, both your child in the hospital and those at home, all get some of your time.

Talk with someone you trust

Some caregivers have shared that they felt overwhelmed during the time their child was hospitalized. Some have expressed feelings of guilt and fear that somehow their actions may have caused their child's illness. Some caregivers feel isolated and alone. Others may be overcome by sadness, fearing their child may not fully recover or be able to achieve their previous goals.

It is important to have an outlet to talk about these feelings. Our staff is certainly available to provide support. It is also important to stay in touch with people close to you who will be available after your child returns home.

Discussing your child's illness

Discussing a psychiatric illness can sometimes bring out surprising responses in people. Many close friends and family members may have had some experience with a loved one who became depressed or needed a psychiatric hospitalization. They may be able to provide some insight or support.

Some people in the community may have very strong ideas, be judgmental or try to assign blame. This reaction often comes from a lack of understanding about mental illness and the societal stigma attached to it. Unfortunately, these people sometimes surface in the most unlikely places like a church or a school.

Choosing what to say

You may choose to be cautious with unenlightened individuals, sharing only basic information, while using sympathetic people who understand mental illness to bring out support for yourself and your family. When you share information about your child's hospitalization you may be cautious at first, "testing the waters" to see how a friend or relative may react. It will quickly become evident whether someone will be supportive or not. You can then judge how much information to share about your child's illness and hospitalization.

Remember that your own feelings about your child's hospitalization are probably influencing how you imagine others will react. When your child is first hospitalized, your own feelings of stress, guilt, shame or disappointment may bring out similar reactions from friends and family. As you come to terms with your child's illness and hospitalization, you may find that it is easier to share information and to receive support from friends and family.

We are grateful to have been ranked #1 on U.S. News & World Report's list of the best children's hospitals in the nation for the third year in a row, an honor we could not have achieved without the patients and families who inspire us to do our very best for them. Thanks to you, Boston Children's is a place where we can write the greatest children's stories ever told.”
- Sandra L. Fenwick, President and CEO

Boston Children's Hospital 300 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA 02115 617-355-6000 | 800-355-7944

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