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Being Your Own Advocate in a Broken Mental Healthcare System

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From February of 2016 to August 2017, I experienced several deaths close to me. From friends of my children (who I loved as my own) to aunts and uncles to parents, the deaths just kept coming. As the first anniversary of the first of those deaths approached, I began to panic. I realized that in moving from one death to the next in such quick succession, I had failed to truly mourn the people I loved.

In January 2017, I went through a “breakdown.” My healthcare was provided by an employer sponsored clinic and I worked in IT managing the EMR (electronic medical record). Long story short, I knew all the providers and felt very uneasy with them knowing all of my business. I took a few days off trying to find someone to help me. I quickly realized that unless you were a patient of one of the local health systems, you were simply out of luck unless you were suicidal, which I was not. I spent hours on the phone in tears trying to find someone to see me. They all asked the same question “Do you feel like you are a threat to yourself?” or “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” The moment I said “No,” they said they only take their patients. I went to bed completely drained and defeated.

The next day, still knowing I needed help, I went to a local urgent care. The first thing I was told was that they do not see patients for mental health issues. I was instantly a puddle of tears. The medical receptionist took pity on me and agreed to let me see the provider. She was also kind and gentle. She spent several hours going through the motions I had gone through the previous day and yielded the same results. No one would see me unless I was a patient of their healthcare system. Just when I thought the only option I had was an inpatient stay, which meant taking a bed from someone who was suicidal or detoxing, she had an idea. She called one of the internal medicine providers with her health system and begged her to get me in ASAP. That doctor agreed. She was able to get me started on meds for depression, anxiety and to help me get some much needed sleep. She also entered a referral for the psychiatrist in their Behavioral Health department.

A few days later, I got a call on that referral and was shocked that I had to wait nearly four months to see a therapist and the therapist would have to refer me to the psychiatrist. Again with the waterworks. I needed someone now. Four months was way too long for me to wait.

I got back on the phone and was able to find someone who was independent and she literally squeezed me in on her lunch. I connected immediately with M.J. She was motherly and helped me sort a few things out. Before I knew it, the four months was up and I needed to move my care to the local health care system. I began seeing by Deb. The first time I saw her, she agreed that I should see the psychiatrist. But guess what, his wait was another four months. In the meantime, I would keep a weekly therapy session with her. We bonded, trust was established and wham, all of the sudden she was gone. I spoke to the psychiatrist (Dr.H) and he changed my meds. He apologies for Deb’s departure and referred me to a third therapist in less than a year.

What I want you to take from this is that our system is so broken that someone seeking care can only get it when they are at the absolute end of their rope. I was dealing with loss, but someone dealing with more troublesome issues would face the same struggles. In my opinion, this provides some explanation for the uptick in suicides. We need to do something to fix this and the first step is that we advocate for ourselves. I knew I needed help and I did not give up until I found it. I can’t yet say that I am better (It is after 7 p.m. and I am typing this in the pajamas I slept in last night) but I know had I not spoken up, I would be in a much darker place.

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Getty image via carlacastagno

Originally published: January 17, 2018
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