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The Largest Barrier to Mental Health Services in Canadian Maritimes

I have been an advocate for my disorders since 2012. It’s been a grueling battle spanning two provinces — Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. I’ve written internationally for The Mighty, The Huffington Post and Physician’s Weekly on my struggles with misophonia, a disorder that causes fight or flight responses from normal sounds like whistling and chewing. There is no treatment for misophonia, and curious persons can check here for more information.

This story, though, isn’t about my lesser-known condition. It’s about anxiety, obsessive thoughts (perhaps obsessive-compulsive disorder, but not diagnosed) and depression. Disorders as old as time — these mental illnesses have been studied. There are treatments, and there are numerous groups that aim to combat stigma. I commend them for their efforts. I’ve noticed in the past 10 years how much easier it is to discuss mental illness with my friends and family.

There is no shame when I inform a friend I had a panic attack and can’t show. That’s a great development, but it’s not enough. This focus on stigma-busting and awareness has done a great job, but it’s not stigma that’s harming mental health patients in the Maritimes.

All the awareness in the world cannot help somebody who gets their first appointment with mental health services — perhaps from the emergency room (ER), a self-referral or a doctor referral, only to be told in their general evaluation, “Yes, we understand you need care, but the wait list is one to two years.”

Years.

If you aren’t suicidal, a danger to yourself or others, you can expect to wait over 12 months to see a psychologist or psychiatrist (some emergency sessions could happen for specific patients). The criteria for care seems to be, “if you don’t want to die, just wait it out.” That is, unless you’re one of the fortunate who have insurance or are willing to pay out of pocket. A service that ranges from $100 to $150 per private session without insurance.

Mental health awareness is important. However, we need immediate action to fix a broken system that pushes people past the limits of the “socialized” system. Desperate for care, many have no choice but to go without treatment or go into debt (or hope to hell they have private insurance) just to get by. The first step to getting help — making that call, going to your doctor and admitting you have a problem isn’t easy for people with mental illness. Imagine finally making this very brave step only to realize after busting through stigma and your own emotional battle with finding care … there is no care.

People who are struggling with mental illness should not have to self-diagnose, rely on sketchy internet videos and applications, find library books in hope for answers or be told that they should “just try yoga” or “meditate” (all suggestions I’ve been given when discussing the lack of care). Mental illness is a serious thing and it requires medical attention. The problem is there is no medical attention to be found, and the ERs are already full. Have you ever approached an ER doctor with mental illness? They often have few suggestions. Many suggest you go to mental health services, where you’ll be sent back to this loop of waiting. I don’t know the answer. I’m not a policy-maker despite studying political science, and I know these issues are complex. I don’t know how to make more mental health professionals stay in New Brunswick.

I don’t know what can be done. What I do know is that mental health in the Maritimes needs to become a hot-button issue. We deserve better than a service that requires us to wait it out (until we get worse) or paying to play. This isn’t what our socialized health care system is about. It’s time we see mental health for the serious issue it is.

To increase my medication for depression, I had to pay for an online doctor. In Canada, this is supposed to be unheard of. Socialized medicine is supposed to cover our basic needs, but unfortunately, I decided to “pay to play” to obtain care. I have a psychologist appointment in a couple weeks, which I will again be paying for (I don’t have insurance, as a Canadian, I didn’t realize how necessary this would be).

As awareness for mental health grows, we need to become more sensitive, all around the globe, to the rising demand for services.

Unsplash image by Scott Walsh