I’ve received treatment for mental illness since early high school. People jokingly call me the “hospitalization pro” because of the number of times I’ve been admitted to the ER and inpatient psychiatric units. Somehow, though, I recently found myself in a hospitalization situation from the other side: recommending hospitalization to someone I love.
I never really thought about the complicated emotions and difficult decisions from the perspective of the support person before. You cry when they pour their heart out to you and express their desire to die. You wonder if you can handle them on your own without involving professionals or if this is outside of your ability. You question if recommending hospitalization is the best solution and worry if taking them to the emergency room will only make the situation worse. You fear that this loved one will hate you and blame you for everything once they complete their stay. You panic at the thought of letting them out of your sight. You crumble and feel inadequate; you feel like you should be able to save them and protect them from all the heartache and desperation that brought them to this moment. It’s intense and often all happens simultaneously, making it overwhelming and nearly impossible to process.
I also never realized the immense heartache that occurs when you watch someone that you care about walk through those doors into the psychiatric unit. Although I’ve done it as a patient and cried as I said goodbye to my friends, something about being on the other side of the door is incredibly difficult, too. You hug your loved one for what seems like both an eternity and a split second, then timidly say goodbye. The door closes in your face and you’re left in the hallway… alone. Your heart shatters, and your sobs break the silence as you slowly make your way to the exit. You wonder if they will be okay and sleep soundly during their first night. You question if you did the right thing and worry about when you’ll even talk to this loved one again.
I struggled with letting go of control of the situation and allowing my loved one and the people entrusted with their care to make decisions. When you feel out of the loop, you panic and worry about whether everything is happening as it should. You wonder if your loved one is remaining honest with their caregivers, and if those caregivers really know what they’re doing. You question if the care being provided is actually the best the person could receive, and if you should be advocating for more (or less). Mostly, you feel responsible and know that you’ll feel at fault if the person doesn’t receive exactly what they need during this troubling time.
In the end, despite all the difficulties and fears involved, I know in my heart that I made the right choice to take my loved one to the hospital. No matter how much you love someone, there are times when you can’t handle situations alone. If someone expresses suicidal thoughts, always trust your instincts and consider reaching out to professionals. Remember that the most important thing is your loved one’s safety and life. Also, know that they’d do the same for you without hesitation if the tables were turned.