This was brought to my attention last year, and honestly before that moment it never occurred to me that there were people in psych wards during the holidays feeling utterly alone. It was so obvious yet it never crossed my mind. Then I started thinking about how terrible it would feel to be alone during the holidays in a place where you are forgotten because the stigma of mental illness is so pervasive. People often think to send cards to the children’s ward, the ICU, and other parts of the hospital, but those who are in the mental hospital get skipped right over.
When I called my local center to inquire about what gifts they allow, the HR director couldn’t grasp what I was asking. He was befuddled by the idea of someone bringing gifts for the patients and laughed it off. He didn’t treat my request seriously and he wasn’t grateful in the slightest when the gifts were delivered. Now don’t get me wrong I don’t want or need gratitude, but when the HR director treated it like a joke (questioning why I would do such a thing) it spoke volumes about what he and many others think about people who find themselves in such a center. As if these people are less than, or undeserving. As if they don’t matter.
What many people don’t realize is that mental illness isn’t a choice. The people in these facilities often had terrible things happen in their lives which led them to where they are. So why are they often forgotten? Stigma. And while I couldn't personally change that fact there was one thing I knew I could do, and that was to make sure they weren’t forgotten.
In the end I wrapped up about 20 packages (the number of patients there), with a small gift & a card reminding them they are loved and not forgotten. But truthfully, even a simple card would have worked, because this wasn’t about a dollar amount but rather a gesture.
If you are reading this & you feel called to reach out to your local facility, please know that anything you do will make a huge impact. You don’t need oodles of money to make a difference. Whether it’s a handmade card, a pair of socks, a crossword puzzle book, a deck of cards, or a fuzzy pen, it will make their Christmas or Hanukkah special. Most wards have quite a small resident count, but if it’s larger you might want to enlist the help of a friend to tackle it together.
My tips are:
- Call the facility beforehand to ask what is or isn’t allowed (if you want to include a gift).
- Ask the facility approximately how many patients they have and then call a few days before delivery to get a more solid head count. This way no one gets left out.
- Include uplifting language in your cards, but don’t treat them differently. These people are just like you or I and they don’t want pity. Keep it positive & uplifting!
I also want to say that I commend and cherish all the holiday initiatives which provide love to people in need during the holidays. My family & I participate in other endeavors with our local women’s shelter, the elderly & making cards for children in hospital. They ALL matter, and they all make an impact. The purpose of this post is to highlight those who might otherwise be forgotten, because I had overlooked them myself for so many years.
“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” - John 15:12