Why is it so difficult to get help? It still boggles my mind how many roadblocks I have encountered over the years while trying to get well. There are too many flaws in the system that make finding and getting treatment so complicated. My purpose here though, is not to figure it all out. It’s simply to share my experiences to provide a better understanding of what a person struggling with depression might go through. I do need to make one thing clear — it is not hopeless! It may be difficult, but it is not hopeless! Bringing these experiences to light will be a step forward in convincing people to make changes and no longer accept the way things are. Here’s my story:
The first time I tried to get help as an adult was after meeting with my pastor who suggested I see a doctor because he thought I may be depressed. I made an appointment with my primary care doctor who prescribed the newest anti-depressant and sent me on my way. Although he claimed to know little about mental illness or the medications, he did tell me that it would take approximately 3-6 weeks to see if the meds even worked and I needed to find a psychiatrist for proper care. I searched my insurance company’s website for approved doctors and began making phone calls to any psychiatrist within a two hour radius. Every single doctor had a minimum two month waiting list. When I pleaded with receptionists I was simply told to contact my primary physician while I waited. Telling a person suffering from severe depression that they need to wait at least 3-6 weeks for meds to kick in and two months to see a specialist is the equivalent of suggesting they dig their own grave. It was so frustrating I didn’t even bother to make an appointment and I tried to convince myself I was better.
I attended a general support group and was basically told that when I wanted it bad enough then I would be ok, but it was up to me to really want it. Books told me I was weak if I took medication, other articles said I’d never survive without them. I emailed and called behavioral health clinics begging for advice about what to do next, but was always directed back to my primary doctor for anti-depressants while I wait. The only ones who would listen to me (besides my husband) without judgement were my pastors who checked up on me and listened to me cry endless times. At one point when I was feeling desperate I decided to call the Suicide Hotline. I explained how I was feeling and the first question they asked was if I had a plan to kill myself. When I said I wanted to die but had no plan, I was told to get in touch with my doctor. I told them I already did and hung up. Another phone call to a behavioral health clinic resulted in advice to call back Monday morning since I didn’t have a plan to kill myself over the weekend. By Monday my husband and I were so frustrated, our pastor finally took the boys while we drove to a hospital an hour away. There I received 24/7 care but was only allowed a short stay thanks to my insurance company. However, the hospital had pull in getting me an appointment with a psychiatrist within the week.
During a subsequent hospital stay, my doctor whom I saw twice a day everyday, had to justify to the insurance company’s doctor, whom I never met or spoke to, that I needed to be there. The insurance company’s doctor felt I could be treated at home and informed us that as of the following morning they would no longer cover my stay. I vividly remember my doctor throwing a book and the phone across the room in frustration. At promptly 9 a.m. my husband picked me up and we left empty handed and as frustrated as ever. Unfortunately due to the stigma we couldn’t just advertise that we needed help or seek advice.
There have been other stumbling blocks along the way, but these stand out most in my mind. I have a master’s degree, a good job, good insurance and a strong support system, yet with all this going for me, we did not know where to go or what to do. No one had answers for us when we needed them. It’s unacceptable to be forced to wait up to three months for an appointment with an appropriate doctor. Would a patient with a blocked artery be forced to wait a few weeks to get treatment? Even now, several years out from those experiences, I’ve had to search all over again when my doctor retired. Once again I found myself on a two month waiting list. I have yet to see a psychiatrist. Since I had already been under a doctor’s care and have been well for a few years, it was sufficient for me to finally see a physician’s assistant.
It leaves a pit in my stomach when I reflect on those experiences. Maybe mine are not typical, but until we make it acceptable and safe to be real and honest about mental illness, it is always going to be difficult. When you are feeling helpless and everywhere you turn seems to become a dead end, it leaves an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness. No wonder the option of dying becomes so attractive. My doctor always insisted on reminding me that suicide is an impulse. I don’t know if people realize this. There are far too many examples of people taking their own lives and I am pretty confident in saying that suicide had probably been considered for a period of time, but having a plan isn’t always what determines if a person is in danger. Being alone, having access to pills, guns or blades along with the steadfast belief that things will never get better and getting help is too difficult, fuels the impulse to finally act. I know what it feels like and it stems from truly believing there is no other way out — no way for the pain and mental torture to stop so it appears to be the only option left. It’s not so much a desire to die as it is believing it’s the only way out and then all it takes is one impulsive decision in a moment of desperation to end it all.
There has to be a way for all of us to make it acceptable and easy to ask for help, to put systems in place to help families who are frustrated and don’t know where to turn. Care has to be easily accessible and immediate. But it starts with awareness and acceptance. Putting this all out there is very difficult and risky for me, but it should not be that way. I did not survive this to keep silent and I shouldn’t have to worry about being judged. Pay attention, be brave, be accepting, do not write people off as selfish or negative, be compassionate and forgiving. It can be devastating to families so we must work together to assure people they are not alone and there are people out there who will fight for them, especially when they no longer feel they can fight for themselves. There is treatment but until it is ok to seek it and have it readily available, progress will not happen. I am not ok with that. Are you?