What to include in a care package that I'm sending to my friend who has been committed to a psychiatric hospital?
November 24, 2012 6:36 PM   Subscribe

My closest friend has been admitted to an excellent psychiatric hospital for about 90 days due to some major issues with her bi-polar disorder. Due to her noncompliant behavior & some comments that she has made, she is on restriction right now but I have been told that I can send her a care package & they will allow her to have it when they feel like she deserves privileges. I've looked all over the internet for some help on what is ok & not ok to send but I'm finding little information. Does anyone have suggestions on what someone in that situation would appreciate & what is allowed & not allowed per hospital regulations? I'm sending the obvious stuff like snacks (small, pre-packaged in cellophane), books, hard cover journals, pictures (no frames), socks, toiletries & a few other things to keep her busy.

I'm mainly wondering what are the restricted items might be other than common sense stuff like anything with glass, metal, wire, cords, sharp objects, etc.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Did you ask whoever explained the situation to you as to what is acceptable? They are literally the best person to give you this information because they're the ones overseeing what gets to her or not. I'm sure they'll also appreciate you checking with them.
posted by griphus at 6:45 PM on November 24, 2012 [10 favorites]

Yeah, call the hospital. They'll more than likely have list to fax or email to you or even a website.

As to what your friend would appreciate, you know her best, so send a favorite snack or pastime.

More than likely, she would appreciate a note from you (and others) that talks to her like she's a normal person and you're wishing her well as you catch her up on a few details in the works or your life.

Check if she can make phone calls. If you're up to it, mention that she can call you to chat.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:03 PM on November 24, 2012

Just for reference, many florists carry plastic vases if you would ever want to send flowers. (I am mostly including this for thread reference later, but if she would enjoy flowers, that's the way to go.)

A lot of psych meds cause dry mouth so if gum is acceptable, that would be good.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:14 PM on November 24, 2012

Seconding calling the hospital. Send her as much stuff as you can. It's not like prison.

They won't throw away anything they can't give her. You'll get it back if she doesn't get it. You'd be surprised what people are allowed to get.

She has rights as a patient, and depending on where you live, these rights can be extended pretty far. They can say she's not allowed to have X, Y an Z, but they don't have the authority to necessarily legally enforce their rules. They assume patients don't know that, but if you seem as if you know that, they'll be more likely to do the right thing.

If they're not letting her have stuff that you guys think she should have, call up the hospital and make your presence known.

You'd be amazed how much having an advocate can change a patient's situation. Be persistent.
posted by shushufindi at 7:43 PM on November 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

I used to work in a mental hospital on a unit for folks with bipolar and other serious illnesses. Here are things that people would have liked to have that the hospital could not provide much of, or at all: socks (get some with the plastic nubbins on the soles in case she can't/doesn't have her shoes with her); shower shoes of some kind, even just plastic flip flops if they're permitted; a few pieces of fresh fruit if they'll allow it--stuff that doesn't need refrigeration like bananas, oranges, apples, etc.; chapstick & lotion--she might not be able to keep those on her, but maybe they'll hold it in the nurses' station or something, because it can get gross and dry if they're running the heat; cards or letters or notes with your good wishes & support that she can look back on if she's having a rough day. You're a good friend to look out for her. I hope her experience in the hospital is a helpful one!

*Yes, do call the hospital and check whether your package will be okay once there.
posted by Fui Non Sum at 8:22 PM on November 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

It's been nearly twenty years since I was in a mental ward (post partum depression + untreated bipolar = not a good mix). However, from what I can remember the thing we fought against most was the boredom. Holy hell, it was boring in there! Maybe things have changed in the last twenty years, but our godsend was card games. Someone was sent cards and we played the hell out of those cards... hearts, poker (for points, not money), spades, etc...

The ward might have cards, but if you can think of something that might fight off boredom, that would probably help her. Maybe a notebook and a pen? If they allow pens? Then she could at least write or draw.
posted by patheral at 8:53 PM on November 24, 2012

I work in a psych hospital, so feel free to MeMail me if you want to talk specifics.

The very best thing to do is ask the hospital what she is and isn't allowed to have. Word search/puzzle books are good to keep people occupied...they want patients to learn positive coping and recreation skills. Books to read are good...but they probably shouldn't be overly violent or sexual in nature (you don't want to get her riled up in the wrong way). Toiletry items are good...nothing with alcohol in them is our rule. We don't allow patients to have shoestrings, so shoes that she can slip on are very good to have.

We don't allow our patients to have plastic vases because they can break the plastic and harm themselves with the sharp edges. Check on that before sending flowers...we've kept flowers visible at the nurses station for patients to enjoy looking at. We also don't allow outside food, so check on that before sending food. Maybe send her some stationary or a pretty journal to write in...we encourage our patients to journal their thoughts and feelings. Gum is not allowed...it can be used to gum up the locks and generally be annoying if stuck everywhere. However, you might be able to send mints instead (I've not ever had anyone ask me that). We do have vending machines on the unit, so you might be able to send change or $1 bills if they can be of use.

I second what shushufindi said about patient rights. Priviledges and rights are different things, and there are some things (like mail) that can't be withheld because they are a right. However, if she's being unsafe and stabbing herself with pencils, those can be taken away for safety. I'd find out what her rights are...the hospital should have a patient advocate that you can speak to. You should also be able to get a copy of patient rights or find them online (depending on the state and the hospital). Keep in mind that she might tell you embellished or incorrect information, especially if she's angry or upset about something. You can always feel free to call the patient advocate or nursing supervisor if something she's telling you is concerning, but don't "attack" the staff with allegations. Just calmly state what she's telling you and ask them to check that out. Some staff will make poor decisions when stressed so they may deny a right when they shouldn't.

On preview, the suggestion of cards is a great one! Especially ones she can share with others. Consider some of those card games as well like UNO or Phase 10 or the board games they have now made into card games. We have some on our units and they get so worn out!

I think it's great when patients have support systems outside of the hospital! Thanks for being a caring and involved friend...it helps their success in the long run.
posted by MultiFaceted at 8:55 PM on November 24, 2012 [7 favorites]

You must call the hospital to find out what they can't have. Literally every single one has different rules, and half of the rules are stupid or at least totally arbitrary. For example, there is no consensus as to whether crochet hooks are tools of pure destruction or a great way to keep people on a closed unit occupied. I've heard of four different policies re: crochet hooks in my city alone.

In general, if you want to send any kind of book or photo album (which a lot of people love to get,) make sure there are no bindings that can possibly be dangerous. In my area, that means definitely no three-ring binders, no spiral binding, and probably no staples. Absolutely no strings. The really cheap dollar store photo albums may be the best. Make sure they'll let hardcover books in - some places don't allow that.

A lot of people also need things like a list of phone numbers/addresses (if you don't know you're going into the hospital, and all your address info is on the cell phone they won't let you near...)

Consider sending a postcard every day, and a plastic album to collect them in. Other friends can send postcards through you, if she's willing to have people send things.

Warm socks, mittens, and moisturizer. Warm hats if they're allowed. Bandanas/handkerchiefs, if they're allowed. Thermal underwear is good if it's cold on the unit; if she needs a sweater/sweatshirt get one with a pouch in front (check to make sure that's allowed.)

Coloring pages (loose.) We got a TON of mileage out of mandalas. Send simple stuff as well as complex things - there have been days when my meds have made it completely impossible to even consider anything more complicated than this design (and I'd be in tears if that was the least-complicated thing I could pick from.) I had trouble, one day, finishing something very similar to this, over the course of six hours. BTW, I hate Geodon.

They let the closed unit have crayons, but pencils were only allowed in the partial/IOP program.
posted by Fee Phi Faux Phumb I Smell t'Socks o' a Puppetman! at 9:03 PM on November 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

Oh - and this is a good chunk of a holiday wishlist from a nearby mental hospital:
  • Personal 2013 date book (no wire bindings)
  • Stationary
  • Prepaid $10 long distant phone card
  • Clock radio
  • Wristwatch (plastic or cloth bands)
  • Umbrella
  • Yoga Mat
  • Wallet
  • Purse
  • Bath sponge (neutral colors)
  • Hairbrush/comb (individually packaged)
  • Body/hand lotion
  • Shampoo/conditioner
  • Deodorant
  • PJ’s or Nightgown
  • Slippers
  • Sweatshirt or sweatpants
  • Undergarments (all styles)
  • Socks knee highs/ankle
  • Dress shirts (all styles—3/4 length or long sleeve)

posted by Fee Phi Faux Phumb I Smell t'Socks o' a Puppetman! at 9:11 PM on November 24, 2012

Jigsaw puzzles have been popular on the wards I've seen. No way to hurt yourself with those, and especially if they're of a significant piece count, they encourage people to work together on solving them. Anything that will help kill the boredom will be a winner - so puzzles, paperbacks (perhaps a selection of a variety of subjects, and she can loan them out on the ward? some places are more welcoming to this sort of interaction than others), cards (assuming the ward clears them as safe), maybe board games if she'd be the sort of person who'd gather a group.

Slip-on shoes; elastic-waist pants without drawstrings (can't stress that enough). Slippers. Snack foods, if allowed by the ward she's on. A big basket of, say, cookies or fruit that she's allowed to share around will make her popular with nurses and patients alike.

Also, depending on the circumstances of her admittance, it's possible she landed there with little more than what was on her back. If it's possible, see if there are any real basics she's lacking - pajamas, socks, underwear, etc. - that you could pick up from her house, or buy for her.
posted by badgermushroomSNAKE at 9:22 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

When a close friend of mine was hospitalised for bipolar for six weeks, we sent her a postcard every day for the whole time. She said later that was the best thing anyone had ever done for her. Most days it had a stupid joke on it, or a quotation, or a doodle - so didn't take much time to write.

The other thing she said was that she was totally bored, but also unable to concentrate or think much. So one thing she did do to pass the time was give herself really thorough manicures every day. She was allowed those disposable emery boards, and nail polish, and she would have been happy to have a bunch more colours. You should probably check the rules before sending that sort of thing, though, because I imagine nail polish remover might be a no-no in some places (stinky if they are sharing rooms).

Oh, and silly magazines to flip through.
posted by lollusc at 11:18 PM on November 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Art supplies if she likes art
posted by bananafish at 7:08 AM on November 25, 2012

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