Thoughts from the ER: 10 things you can do when your friend has to go to a mental hospital

I just came back home from the Emergency Room.

But this time it wasn’t for me.

It’s strange. Being a visitor.  Being able to walk the halls with dignity, in your own clothing, sharp objects on your key chain with no questions asked.  (The staff treats you differently when you’re the one naked under the aesthetically underwhelming gown, bare butt making inevitable and uncomfortable contact with the flimsy, sterile mattress.)

My friend was put under a 10-13 order today, which basically means they can’t legally leave the ER and will be transported to a mental hospital.  They don’t get to leave there either, unless discharged by a doctor.  It’s a shit show.  It’s intense.  It’s depressing.  It’s a lot of things.  But “pleasant” is not one of those things.

As soon as I found out this was happening, I immediately remembered my own experiences (I’ve been 10-13d twice before) and dropped everything I was doing, packed a bag with my favorite books and went to Walgreens.

Why the books and Walgreens?


Lots of people don’t know what to do when this kind of shit happens to a loved one.  But for whatever reason, the universe arranged that I gain the 10-13 experience first-hand.  I’ve been alone and scared in an ER waiting room, wondering what the hell is going to happen to me.  I’ve lost all sense of dignity as every article of clothing and piece of jewelry on my person is being confiscated and traded in for a flimsy gown, oversized socks and 24 hour supervision.  I’ve been bored out of my mind with no friends to hang with, waiting for transport.  I’ve been clueless about what I could and couldn’t bring with me to the mental hospital once I was transported oh-so-glamourously on a stretcher via ambulance.

I’ve experienced the fear, the loneliness, the general what-the-fuck-ness.

But most people haven’t.

(This post is for those people.)


Hey guys.

(Congrats on never having been hospitalized against your will, btw.)

Here are 10 practical ways to be a good friend to someone who is being hospitalized in a psychiatric facility:

  1. Visit.  The hospital can be a cold and lonely place.  Find out when you can visit, clear your schedule, and hang out with your friend if at all possible.
  2. Make them feel normal.  Have fun.  Make them laugh.  Remind them of good memories.  Make fun of the lame decor in the hospital.  Try to listen to the things they say, even if it sounds like nonsense.
  3. Bring them stuff. If they are still in the ER, bring them books/magazines and crayons (they can’t have pens) and journals/notebooks/paper, a movie, anything that you can bring that makes them feel human.  You’re usually not allowed to bring a bag in, so carry them in by hand so as to avoid trouble.
  4. Make sure they are prepared.  A mental hospital stay means multiple days, even weeks away from home.  In my opinion, patients should be packed like they are going on a long retreat or vacation.  Clothes should include pajamas, favorite shirts, jeans, shorts, lounge-wear…whatever they would wear normally.  Also:  HOSPITAL TOILETRIES SUCK.  If at all possible, the patient should have their favorite (pre-approved) self-care products with them.  Again, these little things just help them to feel more human…more like themselves.  This is crucial in a psych hospital.
  5. Call them.  Once they’ve been transported to the inpatient facility, they are able to send and receive phone calls.  Find out the number to get ahold of patients and call them. Minutes feel like hours in those places.  Any kind of excitement helps.  Receiving a phone call in a mental hospital is the psych patient equivalent of receiving a real life letter in the mail.  Make sure they have your number written down so they can call you (they can’t have their phone on them and really who memorizes numbers anymore.)  Also make sure you are calling within hours when the patient is allowed to receive calls.
  6. Help them financially.  Chances are they will be missing a lot of work.  If you can, help them pay a bill.  Or get creative and (tastefully) (maybe even privately) fundraise for them if you are unable to contribute anything yourself.  THIS WILL HELP SO MUCH.
  7. Put all gossip to death.  If you hear people talking about what is going on, shut it down.  A mental hospitalization is one of the most undignified, humbling, and embarrassing things a human can go through.  People whispering about it makes it way worse.  Shut it down.
  8. Check in on them after they are discharged.  Post-hospital, they will have to get used to life back in the real world.  (It took me 6 months to come back to myself after my last hospitalization.)  Text, call, visit.  Be there for them to the point of being annoying.  I know it might seem like a lot, but it helps them to truly see their own value, to know that they are worth being pestered to the point of annoyance.
  9. If you want to go above and beyond, get in touch with their other friends and organize meal and/or care-package deliveries.  Think of your friend as someone who just got home from being hospitalized after a near-tragic car accident.  Chances are, they won’t have the capacity to take care of themselves properly just yet.  (I would have benefited from a full time nurse, tbh.  Poor Dustin. lol.)
  10. Go off the “list” and get creative based on what you know about your friend.  You know them better than I do!  You know what they would love and what they would find extremely cheesy and lame.  You know the level of their capacity for self-care and you know what it would take for them to feel loved.  Do those things.  🙂


(Obviously this is a lot.  Don’t feel pressured to do every single thing on this list.  Don’t drop your own life and stop taking care of your own things to take care of someone else.  They need you fully alive, awake, and with your own shit together.  They know you have your own life, too.  And don’t beat yourself up if you have a friend that has been in a mental hospital and you didn’t know any of this stuff.  Now you know.  I just want to make sure that something like this existed out there in the Internets.)





1 Comment

  1. Thank you so much for posting this! A good friend of mine was recently admitted and I’ve been at a loss for what to do. I check on her through her mom, but haven’t been sure what’s appropriate. It’s nice to get your perspective.

    I found your blog after listening to your “Hello” parody…and promptly getting sucked into watching your videos one after another. =p You have an amazing voice! Keep on spreading the joy! God bless you!

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