Today was a roller coaster of a day. It started off with anger, then depression, then a little hope with a little mix of anger still thrown in for good measure.
I am absolutely appalled at the state of mental health care in Ontario. I can’t speak for the rest of Canada or the rest of the world, but Ontario really, really sucks. It can take months and months to get to see a psychiatrist, and even then, it is a one-time consultation to do a quick analysis of what meds might work for you and then they hand you off to your family doctor.
The only way you can see a psychiatrist quickly is if it is urgent and you are in crisis. A little under two weeks ago, I went to the local psychiatric hospital, CAMH, because I was having severe anxiety symptoms. This was on a Friday (and again on the Sunday). They referred me to their Urgent Care Clinic. Very quickly, I got a call around noon on Monday and an appointment was set up for two days later. So far, so good. I met with the psychiatrist and a social worker and gave them a brief run-down about how I was feeling and my medical history. They told me that we were going to have six weeks for monitoring my medication and coming up with a recovery plan. She gave me some immediate instructions for medication and sent me on my way.
Fast forward one week to today. I head to my appointment and I sit down again with the psychiatrist and social worker.They ask me how I am feeling. I tell them that the medication seems to be working because my anxiety symptoms are mostly gone but that I am having really weird side effects (feeling woozy like I was drunk). They said to take just one pill before bed instead of an additional one in the morning.The social worker handed me a paper with some phone numbers for a few therapist clinics. And then they said my sessions were done. I would no longer be in their care. They said that my family doctor could handle the monitoring of my meds. That I was no longer in crisis so I didn’t need them anymore. And that since I had really good benefits at work, I didn’t need to make use of their free services (fair).
I was devastated. I felt abandoned. I had been promised the care of a specialist for six weeks and was being robbed of four.What if my symptoms came back? What if the medication didn’t work? They told me that CAMH does not provide long-term psychiatrists. In fact, they said that most hospitals only provide temporary psychiatrists in urgent situations and that it is next to impossible to find a psychiatrist who is in private practice.
I went to work for the rest of the afternoon and managed to get my work done. But once I left at 4:30 p.m, I felt a deep depression set in. I felt hopeless. Scared. I felt like I was back at square one, with a general practioner who doesn’t really know much about mental health and seems to barely care about how I feel. Our sessions are always less than ten minutes and he never seems to ask me any real tangible questions about how I am feeling. When I had told him last week about my derealization, he made light of it and made me feel stupid and small. I was so worried that I would never feel better and my life would just keep going downhill without the proper supervision of knowledgeable, capable, high-quality professionals. I felt helpless. I have a great family and friend support system, but I felt alone. They can provide me with emotional support, but practically they don’t know what I need to recover properly.
I had already set up an appointment with a psychologist in the evening a few weeks ago when I was feeling particularly anxious. I know that therapy is a key component for many people in their mental health care and I hadn’t seen one in over six months. My benefits at work provide ample funding for psychology treatment so I wanted to take advantage of it.
The session with the therapist was okay. She seemed approachable and friendly and like she knew what she was talking about it. It is too soon for me to know if we will be able to build a great relationship. However, she told me one thing that made my day – she could refer me to a PERMANENT psychiatrist who could monitor me on an on-going basis. And it might be possible to see someone within 4-8 weeks! I was overjoyed. I feel a lot less depressed right now.
However, I am still angry. It is ridiculous that I have to pay hundreds of dollars a session to have access to a trained professional who can provide me access to other trained professionals. What about people with fewer privileges? What about people who do not get adequate benefits at work? Or any benefits at all? What resources are available to them? What do people do in the months and months it takes to wait for treatment? People will fall through the cracks. People will get worse. People will die. A few years ago, when I was an in-patient at CAMH after a manic episode, and they literally discharged me with no follow-up. It was ridiculous.
First of all, I am a strong believer that therapy should be publicly funded like other types of health care services. Or there should be more funding for online therapy services that can be delivered cheaply and efficiently. If people can’t afford a therapist right now, they likely need to go through a non-profit who is overworked. Or somehow access pro-bono services.
And then there is medication to think about. What if someone doesn’t have benefits? I am on three medications that together cost over $200. How can someone survive to pay that if they are making minimum wage?
I literally have no solutions because I am not a medical professional and I have not studied the system thoroughly. But I want to learn. I am GOING to learn. Because as a mental health advocate, I need to do my best to use my voice to seek reform.
What is sorely lacking in our society is education in mental health. If we were taught about mental health in schools, perhaps we would be able to better cope with issues when they arise. That’s why I am making it my life’s mission to raise awareness about mental health so that people don’t have to go through it alone and that they can understand how they can improve their lives and get better. I want to channel this anger for good.
If you know about affordable mental health care options in your city or country – please let me know! I want to see what is out there and what is possible. Or if you have any ideas about how to fix things – let’s start the conversation together!
I know this is a really negative post but I really needed to rant. I do want to say that even though it may seem discouraging, please do not wait to seek help. Seek help today. CAMH does really have amazing resources for people who need urgent care or who have very severe mental disorders and addictions. Also, please just talk to your doctor. Don’t push away symptoms. Face your health issues early so they don’t get worse.
In terms of other supports, if you live in Toronto, there are some great non-profits that can help connect you to free or affordable resources:
Mood Disorders Association of Ontario: They have a lot of free programs that can help you cope. I attended some of their support groups and found them very helpful at times because I met people who were similar to me.
Canadian Mental Health Association: They have community support programs like helping people who need support in day-to-day activities like banking, medical appointments and budgeting. And oher stuff like employment services, housing, early psychosis intervention and more.
There is the Ontario Mental Health Helpline that provides information about counseling services and supports in your community, listens, offers support and provide strategies to help you meet your goals and provides basic education about mental illness.
There is also the Toronto Distress Centre which provides crisis response and intervention to the emotionally vulnerable and at risk in our community, serves as a point of access for suicide prevention, intervention and postvention, collaborates and network with other agencies to create a continuum of care and support and mitigates the impact of a mental health crisis by helping those with a history of vulnerability and risk make life-affirming choices.
Specifically, if you are looking for dementia care services, the Alzheimer Society of Toronto offers a lot of free resources like one-on-one counselling, support groups, educational sessions/workshops. These are for people with dementia themselves, as well as their family caregivers.
If you are looking for more resources, the CMHA has this amazing Quick Guide with dozens and dozens of services listed, from resources for anger management, bereavement and drop-in clinics, to eating disorders, financial support and LGBTQ support.
So, while I started off quite angry with this post, I leave it with a little less discouragement. There are tools and resources out there for you. You just need to work hard to find them and you need to be a self-advocate. It might be difficult, especially when you are experiencing mental health issues, to really take control, but you need to be the stewardess of your own care. But you are never alone. The list that I linked to shows that.