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Suicide Prevention Is Not Just About Awareness – It's About Access to Mental Health Services

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There is a dreadful word we use that has such negative and terrifying implications — and that word is suicide.  There it is, out in the open.

Now, there is no way to normalize the word suicide. I truly believe, however, we can normalize the struggle of countless people who contemplate suicide. Talking about it will certainly help educate, but it is not the only issue.

Finding the appropriate mental health care is another matter that requires some real understanding.

When you are sick, you feel terrible and you want to receive treatment and relief. When you are depressed, it is very difficult to navigate the mental health arena and find appropriate and good care.

Here are two snapshots of my journey in the world of mental health:

The Beginning of Treatment

I am a 19-year-old college student and I go to my university’s health services. I meet with a social worker for two visits only to be told I will be referred to a private practice outside of the health services as I require long-term therapy. I then had to rely on my parents to pay this private provider. I also see a psychiatrist at the university’s health services and am prescribed an antidepressant. After several months of taking this and not feeling well, physically, it was learned I was toxic on my medication and was never followed appropriately by my psychiatrist. After a second opinion gave me this information and started me on another medication, I changed psychiatrists. Luckily I was referred to a wonderful psychologist for therapy and we worked together for seven years. I was also lucky to have the help of my family to steer me in the right direction in terms of providers and to help financially.

The Last Two and a Half Years to Now

Beginning at age 39, I became ill with severe depression and tried medication after medication where there was either no relief or I felt only side effects. Ultimately, the only
winner in this game was my insurance company due to the co-pays I made on these medications. It was at this point when my depression became worse and I felt miserable. I weighed my life’s positives vs. negatives and wondered aloud, “Is this really worth it? Am I really worth it?” These thoughts entered my mind and much of my time was spent going over them, ruminating and obsessing over these key questions.

I have paid out of pocket over the past two and a half years to my psychiatrist/therapist and am reimbursed approximately 50 percent from my insurance company. My provider is out of network and my husband and I decided I would see this therapist as there is a history of care (I have been her patient, on and off for over 20 years). This has financially drained us. Not only that but I drive almost four hours on appointment days from Connecticut to Massachusetts. I made that commitment as I wanted to work with her and believed she could help me.  

After turning 40, I was hospitalized twice within a month and received ECT (electroconvulsive therapy), where the co-pays were only $20 per treatment. I still felt depressed and after more time and work in therapy, my therapist advised me to enter a DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy) group. I researched and only came up with intensive outpatient programs which are half-days for weeks at a time. I was looking for a weekly group, not a group where I would need to take time off of work. Finally, after more research I found one group that met weekly and was not far from home. Meanwhile, my depression was still there and I needed further care and treatment.

These are mere instances of my journey. It has been exhausting navigating providers and treatments while also combating depression and borderline personality disorder. As I researched ECT, reoccurrences of depression, borderline personality disorder, medications, ketamine treatments, etc. there were many times I felt completely lost in the health care system. There were times I was brought to deep and dark thoughts because of my mental status as well as because of the state of our mental health care system. In my experience, insurance companies do not cover the costs of mental health care in a fair way. This has directly affected me as well as millions of others. The entire system is not designed for those of us with diseases of the brain which weigh on us and our cognition. What happens in our minds is the micro and the health care world is the macro — combining them oftentimes leads to further suffering.

Now What?

Suicide happens and we can analyze it all we want after the fact and come to various conclusions, but the truth is we need to reach each and every person who is struggling. There needs to be easy access to help and services and the insurance world must conform to the parity laws and actually help patients get better since, in the long run, they will actually save more money instead of the piecemeal treatment they allow.

Access to care can be difficult even if you have many supports to help you. It sucks up your
physical and emotional energy and leaves you alone, scared and sapped of any will to feel better. This is where society must step in. This is where we can provide care for those with mental illness. Those who experience suicidal thoughts desperately need a system that will care for and about them and help them with every possible option in order to survive. I strongly rely on my family and friends who support me and also rely on each of the professionals in my treatment team who work so hard on my behalf. Everyone deserves that luxury.

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. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741

Originally published: August 19, 2016
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