When a friend or family member has been hospitalized for a mental-health related difficulty, sometimes loved ones may feel at a loss of what to bring when they visit. While it’s important to remember people who’ve been hospitalized for a mental illness often appreciate many of the same gifts you might give to someone hospitalized for a “physical” condition, restrictions on items brought into the psych ward can making choosing a gift a little trickier. A good rule of thumb is to avoid items with sharp edges (like scissors or shaving razors) and strings (on hoodies or drawstrings on pants). Mental hospitals have different rules and restrictions, so before you bring anything with you, it’s a good idea to check out the hospital policy online.
In addition to these restrictions, every person is different, so what one person wants might be different than what another wants. Keep your loved one in mind, and think about what they might find useful or comforting while in the hospital.
To open up this discussion, we asked our mental health community to share a gift idea to bring to a loved one who is in the psychiatric hospital.
Here’s what they had to say:
“I was recently in the hospital. Toiletries because hospital provided toiletries are not the best.” — Shannon A.
“One of my absolute favorite things anyone has ever brought me was, as odd as this sounds, a bar of soap. My aunt that I’m very close to wanted me to have something I could use that would smell nice and help me feel good, and we’re all about pampering. We do our nails and makeup and all that fun girly stuff all the time. But a lot of that kind of stuff the hospitals don’t let the patient have. So she got me a really good smelling bar of soap. I never even used it. I just kept it by my bed and smelled it all the time. It really made me feel loved and cared about.” — Mariah K.
“Feminine care products, the hospital ones suck.” — Kierstyn W.
2. Art Supplies
“One of the best things I received was a sketch book and sketch pencils. I was able to draw how I feel instead of write and it actually helped and felt really good.” — Chris P.
“Colored pencils and an adult coloring book to occupy their time.” — Rachel B.
3. Stuffed Animals
“A plush. Sometimes when in the hospital, you need something soft to cling to to. Especially when the insecurity of being away from home is in full swing.” — Ally M.
“A stuffed animal! (That they can actually have, check the rules.) Great as a grounding tool and makes a better pillow than those [they] give you.. also, you can keep it forever to remind you of two things. [One,] when you were at your lowest, someone still cared.
4. Games and Puzzles
“Deck of cards/Uno, puzzle books like crosswords or sudoku.” — Monica D.
“A puzzle is a very nice idea, too. It helped keep my evenings busy and very nice because I worked on them with the same two or three other patients and it allowed us to bond without having to talk or anything. Very calming, too.” — Tiny L.
5. Blanket and Pillow
“I think I would appreciate something soft for comfort (like a super soft blanket).” — Julie S.
“A plush huggable pillow.” — Betty S.
6. Personal Clothing Items
“Clothing that doesn’t have any strings (they will take them away) that can boost self-esteem instead of the provided hospital gown and pants.” — Shannon A.
“A few changes of undergarments (sports bras [are] better than underwire bras for women — more comfy) because they only provide paper underwear.” — Chloe D.
“Sport bras, warm fuzzy socks, a robe, yoga pants… basically comfy clothes. It was a couple days before I even got to change my clothes, so I was happy and relieved to have some nice clean clothes.” — Gracyn L.
7. Fuzzy Socks
“Soft, fuzzy socks. They were better than the hospital socks. It may not seem like much, but it made me feel a little more ‘normal.’” — Courtney D.
“Warm fuzzy socks with grips on the bottom so they don’t slip.” — Chloe D.
“When I was in their it was always cold. Slippers, warm socks, thick hoodie, shirt [with] no strings in anything.” — May F.
“When I was in the hospital I clung to a little photo book my mom made me. It had pictures of my emotional support animal, all my friends and my family.” — Caty C.
“I bought this five -year journal for myself. It asks a different question every day for a year for five years. It really help center me during the day, give me something to focus on. It’s really awesome to see how much you’ve grown/changed over the years as well.” — Jamie F.
“A journal. My therapist told me to write down everything I felt throughout the day, even if it was something as simple as hunger. It helped me keep track of my emotions and let me see what was triggering my anxiety and so on. It’s also nice to be able to express yourself.” — Sussel I.
10. Get Well Card or Note
“A truly heartfelt, handmade card. The words inside the cards I received from friends and family were everything to me. It’s easy to feel isolated and alone when you are locked on a psych unit. I still have almost every card I was given from over the years. That’s how much they meant.” — Rebecca P.
“A jar full of reasons why they are loved, needed, cherished and most of all wanted. Then every time they have a ‘gray day,’ they can sit and reread them to bring them back up.” — Sammie O.
“If possible, food from the outside. It’s hard eating hospital food every day when [sometimes] all you want is a nice treat.” — Joanna S.
“It sounds [silly], but candy and other treats, they are kind of a boost when you’re feeling down.” — Shannon A.
“Books. Entertaining books, lots of them. When I was in the ward they had a horrible selection of books, a few I read anyway.” — Summer W.
“For me, it would be a book. When I was inpatient, I’d always ask my mom to bring me down a book, and having that made me feel so much calmer — I carried it everywhere that entire week. It was a little piece of home and reading it made me feel safe and comforted.” — Bailey S.
“I really enjoyed getting a small brightly colored bouquet of flowers, however not in a glass container or anything that can be broken.” — Angie Y.
“Flowers. It might be cliche, but I was given a beautiful bouquet when I spent a week in the psychiatric ward, and every time I looked at it, the bright colors and smell reminded me of the beauty in life, and that someone cared.” — Theresa C.
While these are all great suggestions for tangible gifts you can bring to someone in the psychiatric hospital, sometimes the greatest gift you can give is your presence. As Mighty community member Kaila G. commented, “Receiving visits from close friends and family was the best gift I ever received while in the hospital. I love being around people and I didn’t feel so isolated in the times where my friends visited me.”