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I hugged my daughter like I haven’t hugged her in a long time. My voice – normally strong and confident – failed me as I tried through the tears to tell her things would be okay and that I loved her. I ended up simply whispering it in her ear as I held on for dear life. It was all I had left in me. I wanted to hold onto her for good. This was my baby – the child who had saved me from myself more times than she will ever know. Now, here I was, ready to leave her alone and without my protection in a strange, cold place.
Every cell in my body told me to grab her hand and get her out of there. The entire fiber of my being screamed to hold on to her. My heart was shattered into a million pieces and I knew hers was too. She held onto me just as tight as she sobbed into my shoulder. I just wanted to fix this for her and surely taking her back home would do that, right?
The Day I Admitted My Daughter to a Psych Hospital
I knew it wouldn’t. Before I actually could run away with her, I summoned whatever energy and courage I had left. I broke the hug and a nurse wearing a pair of blue scrubs whisked 1/3 of my heart away behind a heavy metal door with electronic locks and only a small window.
I hated myself for what I had just done. I also knew I didn’t have a choice.
I needed her safe.
I needed my family safe.
Why I admitted my teen to a psych hospital
Things had started innocently enough that day. She had gone to her best friends house earlier in the evening to spend the night. Then, around 3 am, everything fell apart.
It was a message from her telling me goodnight and that she loved me that had started it all. It was a missing letter that clued me into the fact that something was wrong.
“Goodnight. Love you.”
She never types “love you.” It is always personalized and always “I love you.” That single solitary missing word/letter prompted the question, “what’s wrong?”
Then, before I knew what was happening, my child was saying things I had never expected or imagined she would ever say.
She wanted to die.
She was planning to die.
She wanted to hurt others.
She had planned how to do it.
I called my husband. Stuck in his semi somewhere in Wisconsin, he felt more helpless than I did.
“What do you want me to do?”
“I don’t…I don’t know what to do.”
“I’m taking her to the hospital.”
I would call him many more times over the next fourteen hours to update him and tell him one thing; “I wish you were here.”
Signs of Depression in Teens
That moment, those messages, roughly fourteen hours before that locked door, changed me forever and in ways I could never have imagined. As parents, we want nothing more than to keep our kids safe from people and things that might hurt them. We never expect or imagine that what might hurt them could be their own mind.
But here I was, coming home with only one daughter instead of the two I had left the house earlier that morning with. Faced with a bedroom I now needed to tear apart and a home that held dangers for my child in quite literally every room. The kitchen; those new cooking knives I had displayed on the new magnetic knife bar were a danger. The bathroom; the razors she shaved her legs with – the same razor she had already been cutting her skin with.
The hall closet; the shotgun my husband uses to hunt deer with each fall. My office; the diabetes medication that keeps my blood sugar readings at normal levels. The laundry room; the detergent that we washed our clothes with and light bulbs that could easily be broken off into sharp shards. Her bedroom with it’s glass savings jars, pens and pencils she could stab herself with and more.
Major Depressive Disorder
I would love to sit here and say I didn’t see the signs of depression in my daughter, but the truth is that I very likely did. It isn’t that I ignored them, I very much did not. I simply tried to redirect her depression before doing something as drastic as getting professional help. We enrolled her in sports and took her to do things she liked to try and get her out of the bed and feeling better. We reinforced how much she was loved. We added St Johns Wort to try and quell the signs of depression that activities couldn’t.
And for a while, it worked.
And then it didn’t.
And then I found myself standing in that small room at a behavioral health ward in Dallas.
What to do when your child is admitted to a psych hospital
I am usually pretty good at knowing what to do and when to do it but considering I missed the serious signs of depression in my fourteen year old and we were now faced with an inpatient psych treatment, I was lost. More than lost would be appropriate. Overwhelmed, heartbroken, and more. This isn’t a situation that most people will share with others so to be honest, there is very little information out there about what to do when you admit your child to a psych hospital from a personal point of view.
It’s all from the clinical side.
While that isn’t a bad thing, because that information is needed, it doesn’t help the Mom or Dad who is hurting laying in bed each night blaming themselves or feeling as if they’re the worst parent in the world. That clinical info is great for when your child is being discharged from a psych hospital. That’s about it.
Whether you’re just beginning to notice the signs of depression in teens or you’ve been navigating the mental health waters for a while, chances are good you’re holding onto some blame.
What blame? The blame for what your child is going through. I know from personal experience how hard it is, but don’t do that to yourself.
Unless you have been abusive to your child, you are not to blame for their illness. Even if your family is genetically predisposed to having mental illness, you didn’t knowingly pass it onto your child.
Forgive yourself for your child being sick. You can’t help your child if you’re full of blame and regret.
Understand and Acknowledge Your Emotions
I wish I could say that blaming yourself was the only emotion you will feel, but it isn’t. Sadness, heartbreak, overwhelm, exasperation and yes, even anger are all likely to run through your mind. I was pretty shocked when four days into my daughters hospitalization, I found myself angry at her.
I was angry at how much our life was about to change. I was angry at her because her illness was the reason for the change.
It quickly passed.
Allowing Yourself to Feel When Your Child is Mentally Ill
It’s okay to feel those emotions. In fact, you should feel them. But feel them, deal with them and move on. You may find yourself heartbroken that the life your child knew is now forever changed. Maybe you’re overwhelmed at how much must be done. Or you could – like I did – find yourself angry at your child.
You may also find yourself afraid of your child. If I were to be honest, this was the strongest one for me. After all, she not only wanted to harm herself, but she wanted to harm me and her sister as well. I would be in denial if I had not felt fear over her coming home.
I would be lying even more if I didn’t say I’m not still a tiny bit afraid.
Take the time you need to understand what you’re feeling and to deal with them. Once they’re dealt with, move on. If you dwell on them, you will – often unknowingly – cause a rift between yourself and your child. That rift will hinder their recovery and the success of your family after their discharge.
Forgive your child
As I said, you will likely feel quite a few negative emotions toward your child. While it is okay to feel them, it is not okay to direct them at your child.
The simple truth is that whether your child has simply been showing signs of depression or they’ve been diagnosed with something more serious such as major depressive disorder, they are sick. Even if they have been violent, hateful or worse. Their mind is sick and that sick mind is not the child you love. It is their illness.
We don’t call it mental illness for no reason.
If you are feeling those negative emotions, you may need to forgive your child. If you can’t, your child will be in far more trouble than they will be if you do show them love and forgiveness.
Start a treatment journal
Getting your child mental health help requires a whole lot of information. While you may think you will, you absolutely will not remember everything. Trust me on that one.
Instead, get a wire bound notebook and a 3 ring binder and start a mental health treatment journal. Be sure to document everything that happens with your child, medication changes, incidents and more.
You will be glad you did when you need to reference back to something.
I am an over the road truck drivers wife. My husband is gone anywhere from two to four weeks at a time. When all this happened, we were two weeks into a twenty-seven day run. I was alone with two fourteen year old girls, one of whom was being admitted to an adolescent psychiatric ward.
I found out from the moment we hit the emergency room just how alone I was. You see, if you’re planning on taking your child to the hospital for signs of depression or some other mental health issue, prepare to be with them. You can not leave them unless there is another adult, age 18 years of age or older. In some hospitals, you are not even allowed to go to the bathroom unless someone can stay with your child.
In fact, you will very likely have to ride with your child in the ambulance when they are being transferred. A lot of hospitals won’t wait around for you if you’re following behind and instead will refuse the transfer. This was the case with us which meant my car sat in the ER parking lot overnight.
In other words, I needed help.
I was lucky to have both my other daughter and an amazing neighbor to help. Since I was more than a bit lost that morning, I called my neighbor. She showed up in her pajamas without question or wanting anything in return. Thankfully she was willing to drive the sixty miles to pick me up since I did not have my car.
If you don’t have help, find it where ever you can. You’re going to need it.
Ask A lot of Questions
If you’ve never been thorough admitting your child to a psych hospital, you’re going to have a literal truck load full of questions. Ask every single one of them.
In most states, once you sign the general consent for treatment, everything is out of your hands as far as signing your child out AMA or anything other than general care. That means those questions are the only way you will get the answers you need.
That doesn’t mean you aren’t involved in their care. Since your child is a minor, any medications or other treatments, where they are ultimately admitted and so on. Asking those questions you have is the only way you will be able to stay up to date with what is happening with your child’s treatment.
You – and you alone – are your child’s advocate. Whether your child has done inpatient mental health treatment before or this is their first time, those questions are the only way you can properly advocate for them.
Reach Our to your Child’s Treatment Team
You may get lucky and have a hospital who reaches out to your with needed information and approvals. We did for the most part. You may also find yourself on the other side of the spectrum with a hospital that does not reach out.
No matter which you have, you must reach out to your child’s treatment team if you’re not being kept informed. You have a right to call the hospital anytime you would like to receive information. For your child’s sake, exercise that right whenever you need to.
For me, even though they called the night she was admitted to update me, I still wanted to know how she had settled in the day after. I had spoken to her a couple hours after I left and she had been okay so I waited until the 24 hour mark passed.
I was able to confirm with the treatment team that she had settled in and was doing okay. Just knowing that was a huge weight off my shoulders.
Understand Your Child’s Treatment
Psychiatric hospitals have a lot of rules; especially adolescent wards. Those rules are there for a reason. Your child may not be able to call you more than once a day. You may not be able to visit everyday.
There may be things that aren’t allowed on the ward. Yes, these items may be things you look at and question – such as shoe laces or an eraser.
Keep in mind that if the ward is banning an item, they’ve likely dealt with someone harming themselves or someone else using that item before.
Because your child is in a hospital ward, they will likely only get to see their actual doctor once or twice a day. In my daughters case, she saw him each evening. All other times they will be cared for by nurses. Keep this in mind when you call for updates on his or her care.
Properly Prepare for Discharge
Your child will not be able to come home until the signs of depression are gone and they are no longer suicidal. This means it could be days or weeks until they are discharged.
What it doesn’t mean is that you can wait until the day before to prepare your home and family. As I said earlier, I looked around my home the night my daughter was admitted to the psych hospital and realized just how much “danger” there was for her.
I immediately felt overwhelmed.
I started making my home ready the day after her admission and even with all the work her sister and I did, it was still not entirely ready by the time she came home.
If I hadn’t made a list and started early on, we would not have even been as ready as we were.
Make a list and start early. It will be the only way to keep yourself from becoming overwhelmed.
Be there for your child
Even if they don’t act as if they want you around, your child does. When things get hard or your child becomes hateful or spiteful, try to remind yourself that they are sick.
Be there for them as much as you can. They may not allow you to be there for them as much as you would like, but once this is over and they are healthy again, they will remember that you tried.
but don’t forget yourself
Self care is important in any situation but it is especially important here. Maybe you saw the signs of depression in your child already or maybe this is all new to you. No matter which though, you will need to take care of yourself so you don’t break down yourself.
If you need to cry, cry. If you need to get angry, get angry. If you need to take an afternoon off to go shopping at your favorite thrift store or have a cup of coffee with a friend, do it.
You can’t help your child if your own batteries are on empty.
And your other children
My other daughter was an amazing help while her sister was in the hospital. To be honest, with Steve being on the road, I don’t know that I could have made it through everything without her help. When I had to pick her sister up at the friends house the morning we admitted her, she woke up and went with me at 3:30 in the morning with no questions asked.
She sat in that emergency room with me for almost 8 hours on 2 hours sleep until I put my foot down with her and sent her home. When I crashed for 16 hours after being awake for 34, she took care of the pets, the house and even food for me when I woke up. She went with me to every visit even though she was unable to come back to visit her sister.
Needless to say, she was my rock during that time. While I was focused mainly on her sister, I needed to make sure she was okay too.
You may not have the energy to do much for your other kids, but a simple hug and a thank you for understanding goes a long way. In our case, I also let her pick where we were eating anytime we were up visiting her sister, took her by a store she had been wanting to visit for the first time and let her sleep as long as she wanted the morning after her sister discharged.
Be prepared to answer questions
“Will I have this my entire life?” “Am I actually sick?” “What does that medicine do?”
Once your child is discharged, be prepared to answer all of the above questions and more. Your child will likely be scared, worried and more. They will turn to you to help relieve those fears.
If you don’t know the answer to something, tell them, but be sure you research the answer afterwards. You are your child’s advocate and teacher. Be prepared for that role.
As sad as it is, your child will experience the stigma that can be attached to mental health issues at least once in their life. It has been less than a week since my own child came home and she has already lost a friend.
Your entire family needs to be prepared to experience that stigma. Ignorance is unfortunately rampant and now that your child is mentally ill, you will be an unfortunate target of it.
Teach your kids that some people are simply scared of what they don’t know. That others often have bad reactions to what they’re uneducated about. Then teach them to ignore it and move on. To try and not let it bother them.
It absolutely will bother them though so be prepared to comfort them when they come home to you hurt by how others have treated them.
Don’t Expect the Treatment Team to Teach You
Your child is sick with an illness that most people will never deal with. Whether it is simple depression, major depressive disorder or something such as schizophrenia, your treatment team will only give you the basics. It is 100% up to you to read and educate yourself about your child’s illness.
And you absolutely should be educating yourself. It is the only way you can truly learn about the illness they have been diagnosed with. For instance, if I had not been researching as much as possible, I would have never known that people who are diagnosed with the illness my daughter has have a higher prevalence of bipolar disorder as they age.
Educate yourself about your child’s illness so you can stay on top of their treatment. Their chances of leading a successful life significantly improve if you do.
After Inpatient Care
It has been less than a week since my daughter came home with a diagnosis of major depressive disorder with psychotic features and chronic post traumatic stress disorder with trauma induced nightmares. She is on three different medications daily with two additional ones as needed.
While I love holistic options, sometimes, we just need more. My daughter’s mental health is one of those times. She has a long road of recovery ahead of her, but she’s doing well. With time and the support of our family, I have no doubt she ill be okay.
You might be asking why I would write this for the entire internet to see. The truth is that I spent those days of inpatient treatment terrified. I had no idea when my daughter would be released, if she would be okay when she was, if I could trust her after she came home and more.
It was an overwhelming and very lonely existence and truly one of those things that someone will never understand unless they have been through it personally. Even if Steve had been home, I still would have felt incredibly alone.
Because I want you, parent of the mentally ill child, to know you are not alone. Because I know what that fear and those questions feel like.
And maybe; just maybe, I can help provide some answers for you.