What impact does being in hospital have on a person’s mental health?

I’m sure most people would agree that being in hospital is never a nice thing to have to deal with, especially if someone is having an operation, having tests done, or are seriously ill. Having to cope with health worries as well as the new situation and surroundings a person is in can all be aspects that impact on their mental health in a variety of ways. Not only can such experiences affect those people who are in hospital as a patient, but they can also affect the loved ones of those people, people who may be visiting them frequently, or are dealing with their situation from afar. This article is purely my own opinion based on my own experiences, but I hope it allows for thoughts on this subject to be formed or even agreed with, depending on the personal experiences of the reader.

As I said above, it is not only the person in hospital who is dealing with their situation, but also their loved ones. A person’s health can hugely affect the people around them, whether it be their family, friends, work colleagues or even acquaintances. Such a situation can make others to start thinking about their own health, their mortality, and anything which is affected by those. Below are the different ways I believe how being in hospital impacts on the mental health of the patient and the people who visit them.

The patient

I don’t think anyone likes being in hospital, even if the person knows they will get better. The patient would most likely experience a loss of control in their lives as they have to rely on nurses and other members of staff to be able to do a lot of things. The patient may also be relying on other things, such as medication, to help them through their stay. I think it can be scary, especially if it is something that has not been experienced by them before. The extent of this feeling could also depend on why someone is in hospital in the first place. A routine operation, for example, may cause different feelings of emotion compared to having a serious illness. There is also the possibility that a diagnosis is unknown, and so the patient has to worry about the uncertainty of their future alongside everything else they are experiencing.
Thinking about all of this, I think there is a major reason for why many people would experience feelings of wanting to go home; because a person’s home is usually where they feel safe; it is a safe environment in which they are happy in, and a place in which they could feel in control of their life. It is somewhere that has most likely been designed, at least in some way, by the patient, or may be somewhere they just love to be in. When comparing such a place with a hospital room or ward, there is surely no competition for which is better for them to feel more positive.
However, the consequence of them being in a hospital would hopefully make the patient feel physically better, and so distractions such as board games, puzzles, watching television, reading a book etc. could have the potential to help take their mind of what is going on, or at least help them focus on something else for a while.

The visitor

Much like the feelings a patient may experience, those of the visitor could be ones where they feel out of control with the situation they find themselves in. The visitor can provide love and support, but they can’t change the outcome of what happens, in any area of the situation. Depending on how often they visit, it could also impact on their own mental health, as well as their physical health and emotional well-being. If the visitor is making the same trip to the hospital every day for a long period of time, it could start to affect their sleep; they could become increasingly tired not only because of the time it may take to visit, but also because of the emotional and mental stress of visiting a person they love knowing that it is out of their hands for what they can do to make the person better.
I think to help a visitor with the mental stress this could all have on them, they should allow some time for themselves. Time where they can attempt to relax and recharge their batteries. I think this is important, because a person would not be in a position to help their loved one as best they can if they are struggling themselves. Of course it would not be an easy situation to be in, but the visitor should take some time out to focus on themselves and to assess how they feel about the situation they are in. I also think the amount of sleep they are able to have can also have a major impact on their mental health. Due to the stresses and strains of providing support to someone who is in hospital can create, making sure they have enough sleep is an aspect that could help with how they are feeling physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Every person is different, and I stressed in the beginning of this article that what I have written above are my own thoughts and feelings about the subject on how someone being in hospital can affect the mental health of the patient and of the people who visit them. However, from writing this, I am left wondering whether this is a topic that could be focused on more. We live in a society now where the impact of stress is widely known, and things like meditation and mindfulness are commonly used to combat the pressures of everyday life. But being in an environment and a situation that you can’t control brings with it a whole other level of this. Depending on the type of person will depend on how much they are affected by it, but to the person in hospital and to the people visiting them, their mental health can be deeply affected by the hospital stay.

Sarah Keeping MBPsS MSc PgDip GDip BA (Hons)

Follow Sarah on twitter at @keepingapproach