Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Family Worries about Uncle in Institution

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Family Worries about Uncle in Institution

Article excerpt

Dear Open Mind: My uncle has been in a state facility for a little over a year. His wife is deceased and his brother lives in Florida. His older sister (my mother) is in her late 70s and has physical health problems that prevent her from seeing him more than once or twice a year.

I'm starting to get worried about my uncle. He writes letters to my mom about conditions where he lives, and he just doesn't sound like he's thinking clearly. None of us knows much about mental institutions, and we're so far away, we don't feel like we really know what to do. Who could help us?

We commend you for caring about your uncle's residence in a state mental institution. Patients who live in state facilities usually have a biologically-based brain disease, such as schizophrenia.

We will assume that your uncle may have such a disorder and is in need of a restricted environment and long-term care. To alleviate your fear, here are some tips:

Write a letter to the superintendent of the facility expressing your concerns about the conditions of the hospital. The superintendent will see that your inquiry is responded to by those who attend your uncle.

Establish a relationship with staff on his unit to stay informed about how he is doing.

Begin to understand that your uncle's illness may be altering his perception about the facility. He may be experiencing hallucinations or voices that tell him to be fearful.

Ask if his medication needs fine-tuning. We encourage the family to educate themselves about his illness. Therefore, one becomes better able to distinguish what is really occurring and how to respond.

Attend one of our family-support groups or enroll in one of our family-education classes. For five years, our organization has monitored the state hospitals in St. Louis and are generally well satisfied with the environment and patient quality of service. …

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