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When the Hardest Part of Mental Illness Is Getting Help

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“Hello, how may I help you?”

“I’m feeling really depressed and need to see my doctor. I know my appointment isn’t for another month, but can someone see me?”

“Oh, well, she is booked up for the next six months, sorry.”

“Is there anything I can do? Someone else I can see?”

“No, sorry, they are all booked.”


I’ve found this is a common frustration among the mental health community. Mental health offices — and specialists for physical illnesses, too — more often than not are packed with patients needing to be seen but having to wait, which many times leaves the emergency room as their only option. When I was having a particularly depressive time, my parents called my university’s hospital to get me in to see a doctor who would hopefully help. A doctor did not have an opening for over three months. The only advice I received to cope within those three months was to “tough it out.” I’m thankful for my family who care for me and check on me constantly when they know I am in a severely depressed state — because some people cannot “tough it out,” for even one more day.

When I finally got into the office, the doctor came in and I began pouring my feelings out, stating I just couldn’t stand feeling like this anymore. The doctor listened and came to the conclusion I needed to gradually get off my medicine. I began crying. The doctor stood up, opened the door, and told me my appointment time was over. I was shocked. I waited three months for this appointment and was so relieved when the day came for me to go to it. Fortunately, I eventually found a doctor who listened to me and explained why I was feeling the way I was. I was put on trials of countless medications. The only problem with these medications is that many can take four to six weeks to take effect. In the meantime, if I was feeling severely depressed to the point I could not get out of bed — well, sorry. There is nothing they can do. Are you going to harm yourself? No? Then you have to struggle through the hell that is depression and wait the weeks out.

I remember calling my doctor’s office in tears, begging them for something to take away the pain so I could have some relief. “Well, I will relay that to the doctor, but there is nothing she can do. Try therapy,” the nurse would say. So fast-forward to therapy, where they can get you in pretty quickly if you go to the right place. I walk up to the receptionist’s desk to check in: “Hello, I’m here for my appointment.” Without even asking my name the receptionist states, “No, you don’t have an appointment today.” I can feel my eyes well up with tears. I was looking forward to this appointment with all the stress I had been experiencing. “Yes, I do. You wrote it down on a card I have in my car,” I said. “No, you don’t, sorry,” she told me with a straight face and monotone voice. I quickly left the busy office and sat in my car as tears streamed down my face.

How was I going to get through this day, I thought. I grabbed my purse and rummaged through to find my appointment card confirming my appointment was, indeed, that day. I took a deep breath and stormed into that office once again. I brought that card up there, and I told her with a firm voice it was her scheduling error and I needed to see someone that day. She argued with me a bit but said she could probably put me with someone else that day. After sitting in the lobby with tears staining my cheeks for about 10 minutes, my therapist walked out and told me she could see me right then and had her other client go home. I sat in her office and poured every feeling I had out in that hour-long session. I felt so liberated when I left and so proud that I had stood up for myself and called out her error. I wasn’t going to suffer for the computer messing up. But what about the people who can’t stand up for themselves? What about the people who are so broken down like I once was and don’t have their families to advocate for them and watch over them so they don’t do something out of character or harm themselves? They get these responses from receptionists and health care workers and might feel that they don’t matter.

I believe this is why suicide rates are so high. People cannot get the help they need, and therefore they may think no one cares. But there are people out there who care. Sometimes we just have to reach out to different sources and try and try and try until we find the help we need. As a now nurse, I will do everything in my power to help these people. I think it is no surprise our mental health care system needs change. One person at a time, we can fight and hopefully change the mental health care experience.

Image via Thinkstock.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Originally published: November 29, 2016
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