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What Enrages Me About Access to Therapy During the Pandemic

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The coronavirus (COVID-19) swept every nation worldwide, reeking lethal havoc and distressing emotional aftermath in its wake. Beyond the intense medical debt hundreds of thousands of Americans now face due to seeking COVID-19 treatment, and the sudden indescribable, permanent loss of loved ones, it seems worldwide we are all uniquely continuing to struggle.

As much as some would like to live like the looming crisis has been averted, to me, it feels like we’re in the eye of a relentless and raging storm. And one in which our health care system’s infrastructure (along with many other struggling nations across the globe) is burnt out and therefore, unprepared for the “next normal,” already overloaded and exhausted by the daily toll this disease has taken on so many lives and society as a whole.

Amidst all of this, we as a society are not only facing a pressing physical health crisis, but we are also staring straight at an increasingly more urgent mental health crisis. The months of prolonged isolation paired with the communal trauma of a rampant plague stealing too many lives too soon, and poor, basically nonexistent, mental first aid and education is leaving many empty-handed, hopeless and without any crucial support.

In general, it has always been hard to find a psychiatrist and psychologist who you match with, who has availability and is someone you are able to afford. It’s a struggle to establish (or reestablish) such intimate and trusting relationships with new practitioners who are practically strangers, and it is all a part of the process — usually.

During the mandated quarantine, mental health care professionals were forced to lead sessions over online video portals, seeing new patients in 2D, waiting to hear their trauma buffer. The complete lack of psychological first aid and awareness our country’s leadership has failed to address is killing people! The stigma of mental illness is so thick, so taboo, that the idea of even suggesting someone might struggle profoundly with the basic human experience is frowned upon by people who find it much too perplexing.

Yet, to me, it seems so damn simple. Spread some damn awareness and best case scenario, let us instead educate the masses, prioritize research and treatments, allow for open discussion about everything mental health encompasses. It would be life changing to millions — because everyone has mental health. Even if you do not have a clinically diagnosed mental illness, your brain experiences your life alongside of you. And if you are not the one faced with a mental illness, perhaps you’re tangental to the life of someone who is and are able to gain a glimpse at how their days might be so vastly different from your own.

Whether you were in therapy prior to COVID-19 or not, I think we all should be. Disregarding the pandemic completely (can you imagine?!), I think therapy is beyond extremely beneficial. As someone who struggles immensely with my own mental health on a day-to-day basis and have been in therapy for over a decade, I depend on this working relationship as a part of the program I’ve created dedicated to keeping myself alive.

When things shut down and we were thrown on sessions virally, I just felt grateful I still had the support. I feel privileged to have the access to a therapist. Yet, it is never guaranteed. With so much change and chaos in our country, some legislation transmuted and depending on insurance, therapists were allowed to see patients across state lines, via their HIPAA compliant video chat. This is important, since so many people changed locations for even a small section of their lockdown. But now the quarantine is over, the vaccine has been rolled out and things seem to be improving. All things except for my mental health and the lack of access others have to any sort of professional psychological support.

Midway through this year I moved across the country from Colorado to New York, following my dreams and yada yada yada. Legally, I was still able to see my psych support system in Colorado through various telehealth platforms while I was making my move. But this law changed suddenly and it has me enraged. If things were back to “normal” (which, in my opinion, they never will be) and New York therapists, and therapists nationwide, were taking clients back into their offices, I would have an easier time comprehending this. But I simply cannot wrap my head around the fact that because I’m in a new state suddenly, I have to put my progress on hold, say goodbye to some of the only stability I’ve had in my life these past few years and video chat total strangers to try and process my trauma instead? It seems absolutely bonkers to me! Totally backward. (And still, a privileged problem to have nonetheless).

I cannot be alone in this frustrating search for therapeutic support and further understanding surrounding mental health, because the whole world shifted and peoples’ priorities changed. I understand I need to find a new therapist, one licensed in the city I live in, but I also find it so dehumanizing and destabilizing people are having to say goodbye to healthy and functional working relationships, only to replace one digital face for another. It makes me so angry.

We’re all experiencing so much change and I just cannot comprehend the thought process behind the bureaucratic bullies who pushed this rule into reality. It seems to go against the Hippocratic oath. It quickly and efficiently sabotages years of hard work individuals have put in with selected trusted professionals and lets them loose to hopefully find another match, rather than support them through the transition of finding a new safe space to communicate. There is so much red tape in the mental health world, and as we all face this pandemic, we all need a little more help than we’re used to wanting or often accepting.

If you’re on the search for mental health professionals, keep up the good work! Don’t get down if you haven’t found your people. It’s intense sharing your life story repeatedly, never knowing if it will be the match, but we all deserve the perfect person to work with.

Through searching for a new therapist over the years, pre-COVID, it was challenging to find someone I felt I could tell my everything to. But now amidst the new Delta wave, right after moving across the country and saying goodbye to my therapeutic team from the last six years, I am struggling to stay afloat, treading water trying to find a new person.

This is not a country that cares how people are feeling and it is pervasive, in my opinion. The last thing people who are looking for help need is another hurdle. If the world is going to transition online, which most industries have had to out of necessity and continue to use it still, then mental health care legislation and licensing must evolve, too. So many people need more diligent mental health care, yet so rarely are people able to successfully seek it out or take part in treatment.

If all of this instability and anger has taught me one thing, it’s that psychologists save lives, just like medical doctors do. Therapists are not only the receptionists in your head’s hospital checking you in — they’re the nurse managing the pain levels, they’re the surgeon sewing back together broken legs, they are taking care of you in a way I believe no one else truly can.

My hope is things get easier, but how cliche is that? My hope is systems become stronger and the stigma goes silent. We all deserve to be heard and we should be able to decide who is the one listening. I have to live with my mental illness for the rest of my life and I’m already exhausted fighting for what seem like such basic solutions.

Whether you struggle with something, you know somebody who does or you, yourself, are a person, you deserve a safe space for self-reflection. In one way or another, it touches us all and I’m tired of not talking about it. I’m tired of having bullshit imaginary protocols in place that only add to further struggling. I’m torn down knowing progress is gradual, if at all, and that if it isn’t enough, a lot of people won’t survive, myself included.

So, can we please find compassion for those with mental illness who are working diligently to survive a world that’s constantly changing? Let us reinvent what it means to be a licensed psychologist and psychiatrist so they are free to practice with their patients wherever they may please, because no matter what, it’s from behind the screen of their computer and the internet isn’t going away anytime soon.

Unsplash image by Danny G

Originally published: September 9, 2021
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