Prev Next

Smackdown Gift Guide: What to Send a Friend in the Mental Hospital

By Amalah

Hi Amy,
You’re awesome. Your readers are awesome. Google has failed me. Or maybe I’m not qualified to use Google. So I’m turning to you and your brilliant readers. I have a friend who checked into a mental health facility over the weekend. I want to send her a care package, yet I’m completely at a loss for what is appropriate.
Help.OH PLEASE HELP ME!? Any and ALL suggestions are appreciated.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Another Amy

Well, aren’t you sweet! What a very nice idea, and an idea that obviously a lot of people don’t think of, according to how unhelpful Google is in this circumstance. Probably because a lot of friends and family prefer to ignore the situation or just attempt to grin-and-bear it instead of treating the patient as just that — a patient. Who is trying to get better. Good for your friend, as well.
Honestly, I would start with a call to the hospital. Ask to speak with a nurse or someone who could tell you what sort of things are acceptable and what is not allowed on the wing. I did find one hospital that provides a helpful online list of allowed and non-allowed items. I bet this is fairly standard, so you can at least ensure that your care package won’t get ransacked for contraband.
So after looking at what is allowed in a typical psychiatric hospital, what can you send? Well, most patients complain first and foremost of the tedium, and spend a lot of time writing or reading. A journal would be a nice gift (provided it’s not spiral-bound), along with stationary, envelopes and stamps. Make sure your friend has her address book with her, or buy one and fill in as many addresses of mutual friends and family members as possible. If she has long-distance friends and family, include a pre-paid phone card.
bunny-slippers.jpgSend some books or magazines — personally I’d probably want light, beach-type reading, like chick lit and the weekly gossip rags and a fashion mag or two. Or just send her some books you’ve read and enjoyed recently. Used books are just fine, since she may want to donate them to the hospital or pass them along to other patients rather than lug them all home.
And then there are the pampering ideas. You don’t have a ton of options, since toiletries may be somewhat restricted, but I’m sure a nice basic gift set would be allowed, like Philosophy’s Grace or Breakfast in Bed. (If you do opt for a gift set, be careful about the packaging. Remove all bows and ties and string and avoid stuff that could get flagged for any reason, like wicker baskets or wire handles.) (I was actually going to suggest a service like, which I’ve used many times for friends and family during hospital stays and illness, but now that I’m thinking of the packaging angle I’d say just buy and pack your own pajamas/slippers/robe gift, if you think she’d like that.)
Above it all, though, don’t overlook the cheapest and simplest gift — a letter. More than one letter. More than two letters. Let her know that you support her and are proud of her for taking care of herself, but don’t dwell on the whole “you’re in the mental hospital and wow, that’s heavy, dude” thing. Write your letters like you would write emails to her. Send her funny stuff you find on the Web. Tell her about the latest office gossip and how your boss is being a jerk again.
She’s sick, but she’s not terminal or a leper or liable to shatter into a million pieces if not handled with kid gloves at all times — she’s still your friend, and you sound like a pretty good friend to her already, so just…keep being the same friend you were before, just of the old-fashioned pen-and-paper variety.

Published April 24, 2008. Last updated April 24, 2008.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

icon icon
chat bubble icon