Mental Health Access Nightmares

Patience is not one of my virtues.

That is when I’m healthy. When I am not mentally healthy, patience might as well be a word that does not exist. I am a 42 year old man. I have depression and anxiety. It was being managed quite efficiently until a life event happened and my depression intensified. I needed help, I needed to address my mental health…

If you are a man, you know that we as men are not supposed to ask for help (its an unwritten rule)… We don’t ask for help for anything… We could be lost, bleeding, hungry or confused but we won’t ask for help… This is a stigma I have been trying to defeat my whole career, but I know it still exists. It is not just men though; many people are afraid to ask for help or too proud to ask for help but what scares me the most is when they do ask for help they don’t get it or the effort of getting help is too much.

Remember patience is not a virtue I possess and when my depression is controlling my mind I lose the ability to be motivated, to be patient, to be persistent. Instead, when encountering resistance or  set backs I want to put it off, do it later (never) or just quit. This is common among those of us with mental illness. Its not that we don’t want help; its that getting help is too much work for us in our mental state…

I am treated with a low dose of an antidepressant; I have been for years. It has been going so well that this summer I was in the process of tapering off completely and was at the lowest dose that was still therapeutic. However, this summer I moved to a new community which is when my family problems began. My whole world was rocked. Shortly after this unfortunate life situation I recognized the symptoms of depression creeping back into my life; irritability, difficulty enjoying things I once enjoyed, sleep problems, difficulty concentrating etc.. I knew the family situation was out of my control so I made an appointment with a psychotherapist. We scheduled weekly  appointments at first and they were very helpful. Then, I went to bi-monthly appointments and although they were still helpful I noticed the symptoms of depression (especially the irritability) getting worse. So since I was new to my community my therapist gave me the number to a psychiatrist in my new community to do a medication review.

I live in Lakeville but work in Owatonna. Initially I called the psychiatrist recommended by my therapist on a Monday. I got their voicemail… I left a detailed message according to their instructions. By Friday I had not received a call back so I called again; and again got their voicemail, so I left another message. On the next Monday I was feeling rather frustrated and a coworker suggested I call a local psychiatrist since I was not getting a response from the one in my hometown. I decided I would give the first psychiatrist the rest of that day to respond… Well, I didn’t hear back so I called a local clinic. Guess what? I got their voicemail as well… So I left another message and despondently hung up the phone to continue the wait… This is the part of my care and ACCESS TO CARE that scares me… I wanted to give up. Remember, my mind isn’t working efficiently. I don’t have the mental capacity to manage these situations. The patience that others have and that I normally have is nonexistent at this point… What I do have is excessive irritability… Waiting creates extreme irritability… This creates an atmosphere conducive to quitting.

Lucky for me, at this point I am still healthy enough to KNOW I need to keep trying for my health. I have been working in mental health and substance abuse for 15 years; I know better (at the moment) but if left untreated eventually I may not have the ability to think about my health. This is where the problem is. Many people end up with tunnel vision. They are no longer thinking rationally but cannot recognize this. How many others don’t have the background I do? This is where a lot of people would quit.

It didn’t get any easier.

After a second call and second voicemail at the clinic in Owatonna I finally received a call back from that clinic. She was very nice and started the intake process. However, there was a problem. They are contracted with a 3 county area and can only provide psychiatric services to RESIDENTS of those counties… I am not a resident in those counties. I work there but live in a County North of their service counties. She apologized and kindly referred me to the other facility in town that has a psychiatrist. I called there after hanging up the phone. While waiting, the first clinic (in my home town) called (perfect timing), I had to let it go to my voicemail… When the representative at the second clinic answered the phone and got my request she informed me that unfortunately they don’t currently have a psychiatrist and could put me on a list for a call back when they hire one…

This is the second time I wanted to quit and just see if it would get better on its own… However, I called the original clinic back and got to speak to someone. She got all of my information and then told me she would have to call me back after she spoke with the psychiatrist to see if she would accept me. Ok, I am assuming she meant to see if the Doctor had openings, however, what my depressed and anxiety filled mind heard was “we’ll decide if you are worthy of our time”…

Can I quit yet?

They called back the next day and told me I was approved to be seen by the doctor and her next available appointment was 6 weeks away. I thanked her and scheduled it.

By the time the December appointment arrives it will have been almost 9 weeks since my first call. This is very wrong. We need to do better. This was just a SCHEDULING problem. There are many that have problems on top of the logistics; the wrong insurance, can’t drive, cannot get out of work… I don’t have the answer on how we fix these problems but I do have a few suggestions for those reading this:

  1. If they are in a suicidal crisis STAY WITH THEM, get them to an E.R. or call the National Suicide Hotline 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433). If you are not sure; ASK them if they are suicidal.
  2. Remember, Depression is a serious condition. Don’t underestimate the seriousness of depression. When left untreated depression can be fatal. Depression drains a person’s energy, optimism, and motivation. They cannot just “snap out of it”.
  3. Depression can cause tunnel vision. They may have a difficult time seeing the positives in life; they only see misery.
  4. You didn’t cause it and you can’t “fix” someone else’s depression. Ultimately, recovery is in the hands of the depressed person. BUT you can help…
  5. Be willing to help. Make the appointments, drive them, follow up, etc… However, remember there is a big difference between Help and Nagging. If you “nag” someone they will likely not ask for help again and will just hide their symptoms rather than get help. Keep in mind they may struggle and may not be cooperative. Be patient but persistent.

Depression is treatable and recovery is possible. Don’t give up on yourself or your loved ones. Be vigilant in your efforts to get help.

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