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To Parents of the Pediatric Psych Ward

To Parents of the Pediatric Psych Ward

Why you are my heroes.


I am a nurse in the psychiatric ward of a children’s hospital. Prior to that, I was a nurse in the pediatric oncology ward. I’ve seen and heard a lot, including one mother whose daughter was admitted after attempted suicide. The girl's pale thin body was laying meekly on a stretcher, wrists tightly bandaged. Her mother sighed and said to me, “This is so hard. So scary. And so… lonely.”

Any illness is hard. Children are supposed to be at home, not in the hospital. The thought “my child is in the hospital” is shocking. Their small bodies just don’t belong on the big hospital beds.

But in the “regular” pediatric ward there reverberates a strong bond between parents and their children, a bond of love and needing each other. “I love you. I am here. It will be all right.” Tears of pain flow freely; they are completely understood and even welcome. There is plenty of support from relatives and friends.

Here in the psych ward, the mother hears her angry child say, “I hate you. Why did you bring me here? Why didn't you just let me die?” There is no one by her side to whisper, “Stay strong. Everything is going to be okay.” She is left completely alone, not only with fear and pain, but with resentment, guilt and shame.

In the “regular” ward, children perk up when they get presents, balloons, get well cards. Seeing their joy fills your heart with joy and makes more space for love and giving.

In a psych ward you hear, “I ripped their card to pieces! They are all lying. I know that no one cares for me.” Your spirit shrinks and withers.

In the “regular” ward, parents reply with compassion to their children’s plea to go home, “Soon, soon you will go home. Everyone is waiting for you.”

But in the psych ward, in response to their angry command “Get me out of here!” you may be choking on a thought, “I don’t want you to come home.”

Then there are harsh judgments from people who see only the outside and have no understanding of the bigger picture. They may see greasy hair, unkempt clothing and notice body odor, and gently ask, “Why can’t you make her take care of herself?” Or they witness the child's outburst in the middle of the store – “I hate you. You never buy me anything!” – and wisely advise, “How can you let your son speak to you like that? You need to teach him to speak respectfully to his father and mother. It’s not a good idea to give in to whatever he demands.” Or they may even try to teach your child a lesson.

They don't know about the screaming matches, physical and verbal assaults which leave you feeling like a victim and an abuser at the same time.

They don't know how hard you are trying. They don't know about the screaming matches, physical and verbal assaults which leave you feeling like a victim and an abuser at the same time. Or the barrage of accusations of being a bad, uncaring, unloving, selfish parent, which leaves you feeling mad, crushed and powerless at the same time. Or the deafening silence while your child wilts from lack of joy.

They don't realize how much of your energy goes into damage control, not mentioning having to carry out all other responsibilities involved in handling the everyday stresses at home, at work, in the community, while maintaining “normal” appearance to the outside world.

Who can appreciate your tremendous effort to rise above your own anger and hurt and love them just as you would a “normal” sick child? It all remains unseen, known only to the One Above.

Your children are suffering from an illness, a debilitating illness that affects everyone in your family. But only you can feel how it is also a shameful illness. You may feel embarrassed to tell your coworkers, neighbors, friends, and even relatives; you may feel embarrassed to share your children's names at prayer groups. You don't want to raise well-meaning questions or stir curious gossip.

So no one offers to make meals for you, to watch your other kids, or lend support and encouragement. And it remains so hard, scary, and lonely.

You may have a long road ahead of you to come to terms with yourself, with your child, and with God Who inexplicably orchestrated this just for you. Others may see your sometimes sad, tired and overwhelmed face, but God sees your gigantic spirit that persists and does not give up… Different medication, different type of therapy, different approach... You are still there for them because they are your children.

I felt a strong need to write to you, parents of the psych ward patients, and tell you that:

You are incredible.

You are brave.

You are caring and wonderful and strong.

And you are doing an amazing job just by showing up. You may have forgotten what these words sound like, you may find it impossible to apply them to yourselves, you may not understand or believe them at all, but I say them, because I know that they are true.

And if there is no one else out there to praise you, I am here to proclaim: YOU ARE MY HEROES.

February 17, 2018

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Visitor Comments: 48

(42) Anonymous, March 11, 2018 2:08 PM

Help through Family Connections

Thank you for your words of understanding and encouragement. Standing at the bedside of a child who has 'nothing really wrong' and 'can't she just...' is really very lonely.The first place I ever felt true empathy and help was at a Family Connections program in Jerusalem. For the first time I realized I am not alone and I am not at fault.

(41) Jaime Schmeiser, February 27, 2018 10:07 PM

Thank you!

Your inciteful article/letter came to me at a time that my youngest daughter was admitted to the psych ward of a hospital. I was blessed and encouraged to stay strong. I am a single parent of 4 adopted children three of which are struggling with mental health issues I needed this more than you will ever know thank you

(40) Ruchama, February 26, 2018 5:13 PM

This article was so needed

Thank you so much. I feel a little less lonely...

(39) Steve Edelman, February 25, 2018 7:29 PM

There is a good book.

Try reading "The Happiness Prayer" by Evan Moffic ISBN 978-1-4789-1806-6 Have a group discussion with those that read it. No, it is not a cure. I believe that it might help people to cope. There is a real Happiness Prayer that is about two thousand years old.

(38) Anonymous, February 24, 2018 6:27 PM

Thank you for these understanding words that ring true even if the child is no longer a child. They well describe the emotional turmoil I experienced as parent of a child fused to the belief that the only way out of pain is to end life.

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