What to tell gossips about my husbands psych admission
October 28, 2013 12:12 AM   Subscribe

My husband is spending some time in hospital to deal with his depression. This is a good thing and means he will be getting help. But I need help in framing how, and what, I tell different people. In particular gossipy people who ask what hospital he is in.

MrToastie has asked me to tell people what's happening as he's not well enough to communicate. I've got through the list of people who can know everything (family, close friends) and am getting to the people who need to know he's not well, but not the details. As we live in a remote area and have had to travel to a city for him to be admitted I've taken time off work to be with him. This second tier of people, unfortunately, includes my boss colleagues, who is an apalling gossip. Anything I tell him about this will be known by everyone we work with by COB. To access the kind of leave I need, I have had to tell my boss my husband is going into hospital.

I've got a vague catch all 'there's a lot going on and it's hard to tell exactly what's causing him to be unwell' for the inevitable 'what's wrong with him' but what has me stumped is how to answer 'what hospital is he in?' Boss - and others - will definitely ask. And the hospital is The Psych Clinic. If I give the name it will be 100% clear it is a psych admission. I personally don't think it's a big deal or attach any stigma to it, but I abhor the toxic culture of gossip at my workplace and refuse to provide fuel for the inevitable bonfire that would erupt around this news.

My dilemma: If I hedge it will make it sound more mysterious and make people more curious; I can hardly say I don't know; it's not a rude question as such and slapping people down with a 'why are you asking' would make me seem like a total bitch; if I lie... Someone will phone/try and visit/know someone who works at the hospital I've used (even the city we've travelled to is quite small).

Do I have another option? What would you say in response to a direct question about the hospital?

One last thing: this is not a question about how to deal with my workplace culture or gossip generally. It is what it is and I'm well able to deal with it for the most part. But this situation has me stumped.
posted by t0astie to Human Relations (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
"He's being treated for clinical depression" should cover all the eventualities.
posted by pompomtom at 12:17 AM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: "My husband is under the care of some great doctors across the board. Thank you for your concern and I will pass your well-wishes on to my husband. He will appreciate hearing that you're thinking of him."

Split up that script whenever you need to and repeat ad nauseum. If someone gets really pushy, you could say, "Hey, I appreciate your concern, but as you can imagine, this has been really hard on me and I don't really want to talk about it anymore."
posted by Hello Darling at 12:19 AM on October 28, 2013 [8 favorites]

Best answer: To anyone whose opinion of you matters and who will be (unfairly) huffy over a perceived brush-off, I recommend a kind of pretend confidentiality. So to boss: "Thanks so much for caring, I really appreciate it. But you know what, Husband is a pretty private person, I'm not sure he wants me to really discuss his med stuff with anyone. You know how it is. SUBJECT CHANGE."
posted by third rail at 12:23 AM on October 28, 2013 [31 favorites]

You do not need to disclose his condition to anyone, ever. Anyone who insists otherwise is being rude and nosy. It is not your responsibility to give them information which is not theirs to have, nor your responsibility to feel guilt for giving them less than they demand.
posted by dhartung at 12:26 AM on October 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I agree there should not be stigma attached, but it sounds like you know what your boss and colleagues are like. I would not want to say anything to people like that either.

If they ask what hospital he's in, you could say, "Oh, how sweet of you to want to visit! He's really not up for any visitors or calls. Thanks for being so caring, though" and then change the subject. That way, you

a) don't answer the question,
b) acknowledge any genuinely nice people who actually do want to visit,
c) let the gossipy people save face by pretending they're asking because they want to visit, but also
d) make it clear there's no longer any reason they can keep pressing you for details without looking blatantly rude and nosy. I mean, you just said he's not up for visitors, so what other reason would they want to know what hospital he's in, right?

Best of luck to you and to your husband.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:36 AM on October 28, 2013 [22 favorites]

You never have to tell anyone and this is not to say that you must or that it's the solution that would work best for you, but given that people are going to talk anyway, I think there's a lot to be said for being forthright about this. Mental health issues are real health issues. People talking about them like they're real health issues can't change everything at once, but it does contribute towards these things being taken seriously. When your other alternatives are being so vague that people just start making stuff up or else outright lying, I think there's a lot to be said for just tackling it head-on.

If there were a tactful way to avoid it and have people leave you alone, mind, I'd probably go for that, myself. But if they're going to be that pushy then you're kind of in a position between being in control of the situation... or letting them take things over during what is already a difficult time for you. I suspect that you can't stop the fire, but you can make it a controlled burn; if you're the one who says "depression" and you say it in a way that indicates there's nothing particularly drama-tastic about it, of course it'll spread around the office but at least they won't be speculating about how maybe he's turned into an axe murderer. But you know these people and how wild things are apt to get if you leave it to them, basically, so that should absolutely be a factor in the decision. As should your husband's feelings about people knowing. I just don't think you should write it off a an option immediately.
posted by Sequence at 12:39 AM on October 28, 2013

Mental illness carries many costs with it, including social stigma. Volunteer no more information to strangers than absolutely required to fulfill your work obligations. My advice is to just say your husband needed medical care, or however you need to word it, but leave it at that. If someone is nosy and wants to know more, just politely decline to elaborate unless absolutely necessary, and even then do not elaborate.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:48 AM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You could make up the name of a hospital, then no worries about people contacting the hospital to find anything out! While you're at it you could also make up a medical condition, which the "Cheating Death" segments from The Colbert Report could come in handy for.

Or you could make up an even more exciting reason to be absent, like he's gone to Syria join the rebellion.
posted by XMLicious at 1:07 AM on October 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh, wait, I missed the bit about requesting leave from work. Maybe MrToastie's physician could supply a doctor's note verifying that he's affected by a medical condition serious enough to be hospitalized, without any specifics, that gossipy boss will find acceptable to corroborate your request for leave?

Also, remember to take time for yourself. Helping a loved one going through issues with mental health can be very stressful.
posted by XMLicious at 1:13 AM on October 28, 2013

Best answer: Definitely the slightly-non-sequitar approach: when someone asks what hospital, act as if you thought they wanted to comfort someone sick --- "Oh, I'm sorry, but they're still diagnosing just what the problem is, and he isn't allowed visitors right now..... he isn't permitted flowers either, but if you want to send a card, just hand it to me and I'll pass it on as soon as the doctors will let him have it!"

The point being to deflect nosy inquiries by answering them as if they were assumptions of good will.
posted by easily confused at 2:32 AM on October 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks so much everyone, I feel so much less stressed out after reading all your answers. Going to go with treating fishing expeditions for the hospital name as though they are being kind, deflect with the 'no visitors/cards just now' falling back on 'too painful, private time' if pressed.

Mr Toastie's vote is for telling everyone he's gone to Syria to join the rebellion. Thanks for making him smile XMLicious.
posted by t0astie at 3:26 AM on October 28, 2013 [14 favorites]

Best answer: "He's on the mend but the doctors have suggested he gets some rest. I'll let you know when people can visit or you're welcome to send anything to me to take to him."

If you really, really need to bluff, being treated for an infection is a good one to use IMHO. "He was feeling poorly so we took him into hospital and the doctors decided it would be best for him to stay in."
posted by MuffinMan at 3:28 AM on October 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: "it's not a rude question as such and slapping people down with a 'why are you asking' would make me seem like a total bitch"

Unless the person asking is a trusted friend of yours, it IS a rude question in the specific context of a gossipy workplace where the question seems like ammunition-seeking. Yes, rude is the right word for it: so why not call a spade a spade here as you think through these issues in the safe, anonymous space of AskMeFi? I love love love @hurdy gurdy girl's idea c) "let the gossipy people save face by pretending they're asking because they want to visit." That's such a cool, high road way to respond to the rudeness.

Also there has got to be a tone of voice and a body language with which to respond to the rude question with your own questions and comments without making you "seem like a total bitch." (Sheesh, if only your gossipy colleagues would worry a bit more about not acting like "total bitches"!)

"Joe, are you asking because you want to VISIT him -or- did you want to SEND him something? Because that would be super thoughtful, but [no way in hell] because [hospital policy]. Folks can send anything they want over to our home. Awww, we're so touched by your concern. Thank you."
posted by hush at 5:34 AM on October 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

Another possible bluff is migraine treatment. Someone close to me spent three weeks at a migraine clinic getting slowly weaned off the meds they had been taking and onto new ones; their spouse went with them and stayed in a nearby hotel.
posted by xo at 6:30 AM on October 28, 2013

Is there any reason to say anything more than "He has some medical issues right now"?

> What hospital is he in?

"It's quite a way off".

> Oh, I'd like to send him flowers. Where should I send them?

"That's very kind, and we appreciate the thought, but it isn't necessary".

Seriously, you don't have to give out any information you don't want to. I had some (minor) medical issues that didn't keep me off of work, but were very visible, and when people asked I said that I had some minor medical issues and that I was going to be fine. That's it. Bummer about your curiosity, but that's all you are getting.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 9:55 AM on October 28, 2013

You could also frame it as his not wanting folks who work at that hospital popping in (someone mentions it to their doc/nurse friend/family member, who pops in, etc).
posted by Pax at 1:27 PM on October 29, 2013

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