Visiting Hours, Limited
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Visiting Hours, Limited

Planning a visit to a loved one in a mental health facility can be difficult.

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Visiting Hours, Limited
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In the fall of my senior year at college, I visited my friend at a mental health facility for the first time. It turned out to be quite a stressful experience. In retrospect, I wish I had walked in with a better idea of the process so I could have taken better care of my own mental health.

When I did a Google search, I was surprised I couldn’t find any articles on this topic -- not even one. Instead, my search yielded tips for hospital visits. But the two institutions differ from each other in ways that significantly impact the visitor’s experience, and I think that each deserves its own account. So here are some tips that I hope will help, regardless of what your situation looks like.


1. Check out the facility’s policies.

First, you’ll have to check if and when guests are allowed. Usually, new patients must wait a week or two before they can reach out with any invitations. It’s standard policy to acclimate the patient to the new environment, and assess their mental health without outside interference.


2. Don't spring a surprise visit.

Surprises can be fun, but not in this case. Show you care by asking if they would like you to visit. If they agree, confirm on the day of to see if they’re still up for it. They might be tired or otherwise upset on a particular day and may want to spend some time alone. Or this might be when they need extra support. Different strokes for different folks. Ask and don’t assume.


3. Check in with yourself beforehand.

Make sure you’re in an emotionally strong place before trying to support your friend. I made the mistake of rushing over right after my thesis walk-through, even though I needed some mental head space and hadn’t eaten dinner yet. It’s tough to find a time when you’re not busy; but if you plan ahead, you can reduce the amount of stress. Again, make sure you’re feeling well on the day of, just hours before visiting. Moods can change throughout the day, and it may be necessary to postpone the trip.


4. Leave any gifts at home.

Unlike a hospital, mental health facilities neither encourage nor allow visitors to carry in items of any sort. Snacks, knickknacks, the patient’s favorite blanket -- all on the restricted list. Thinking about it now, that makes sense. But I’ll admit I was surprised I couldn’t take in basics like my cell phone or wallet. Save yourself time by leaving everything but your ID in the car when you walk in. Otherwise you’ll end up like me and have to make another trip in a poorly lit parking lot. Not fun.


5. Arrive on time.

Strict policies mean visiting hours are limited. In my case, I was only allowed one hour. But because I had to find the place, park, and check in at the front desk for approval, I ended up with maybe 20 odd minutes. This turn of events made me even more stressed out than I already was.


6. Coordinate with other visitors prior to the visit.

Other people -- parents, relatives or friends -- may also want to drop in. It can be helpful to chat with them ahead of time to ensure that your loved one does not feel overwhelmed by too many people at once. Of course, you’ll want to check in with your loved one on what they would consider overwhelming, since everyone possesses different limitations. In addition, the facility itself will limit the number of people that can step in at one time. Give other visitors privacy as needed, and don’t take it personally if you don’t all receive an equal amount of time.


7. Listen to understand.

I don’t mean just listening to the words they say. You’re going to have to read between the lines a bit. What do their body language and facial expressions reveal? Or consider asking them directly: What can I do to support you right now? Do you need someone to listen without giving advice? Alternatively, do you want to problem solve and talk about solutions? What is going to make you feel better, not worse? It's not your job to “fix them,” per se, but it is your job to be supportive. By supportive, I mean, don’t give them advice if they just want a shoulder to cry on, and vice versa.


8. Don’t make promises you can't keep.

Tempting, but a horrible idea since expectations can be dangerous. Try not to give someone false hope, because you never know if something like work or illness will crop up and interfere. Maybe ask if the person would like to see you again or if they feel up for discussing the matter at a later time. They might not know how to respond in the moment, so give them space to think about it.


9. Remind them that they're loved.

It’s imperative that you ensure they know you want to visit them -- that it’s a choice, not an obligation. From their end, it can be easy to feel like a burden, even if all parties know that is not the case. We all need reminders that we’re loved, especially during tough times.


10. Reflect on how you’re feeling and take care of yourself.

At the end of the day, the cliche that you need to put yourself first is a must. I recommend taking at least a one-day break between visits. I made the mistake of visiting on consecutive days, which took a toll on my body and mind. Breathe. Eat before the visit. Ask someone to drive if you need, and take breaks as needed. It’s been said by many, and I’ll repeat after them: be kind to yourself.


11. Continue to communicate about the next step.

Whether or not you decide to visit again, talk to your loved one and let them know what your plans are. Uncertainty can be anxiety-producing, and you want to avoid that as much as possible. hey will appreciate it if you communicate with them honestly so they can adjust their expectations.


If you’ve visited someone in a mental health facility before, what was your experience like? What did you think of it?

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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