I’ve spent the bulk of my life living with depression and anxiety. This means that I’ve spent most of my life in and out of doctor’s offices, with different counselor’s, telling my history to different professionals, and seeking out different treatment methods for myself. Sometimes, and unfortunately quite often, things can go awry when you are trying to get quality treatment for yourself.
I started my journey with depression and anxiety treatment when I was just 14 years old. My first experience with medication was when a primary care physician prescribed an antidepressant to me. It wasn’t the best experience, as psychiatry wasn’t her specialty and things weren’t fully explained to me. I ended up quitting the medication cold turkey and things ended up being worse for me after that for a few months. Still, this experience didn’t even come close to being my worst with the mental health industry.
Sadly, when you are someone with a mental illness, finding the right medication can be tumultuous and quite daunting to say the least. With psychiatric medications, finding the right medication is a trial and error process, since there is no way to know exactly which medicine will work for each person and there are so many to choose from.
It can also be difficult to find the right fit in a counselor. In my 12 year journey since starting counseling I have had around ten different counselors. These counselors have different treatment styles and they all need to know your history. It can be exhausting to recall your history to each person you see for treatment. It can also be exhausting when someone is not the right fit for you. This is not to say that it is not worth it to seek out and find someone who is the right fit for you and your illness.
Sometimes things can get just downright ridiculous within the mental healthcare industry. I once had a therapist I was seeing tell me she didn’t think the “stigma around mental illness” exists, because she had never experienced it in her own group of friends and peers. Another time, I had to change doctors because of a change in colleges. This doctor asked for my health records so he knew what to prescribe me and what I was currently taking. He actually REFUSED to prescribe one of my medications, and I went through one of the worst withdrawals of my life. I had suicidal thoughts, locked myself in my room for days, missed classes, missed work, and had physical symptoms, the works.
Most recently, I moved home because of a terrible episode of depression that knocked me off my feet and I sought out the help of a local treatment center. I had been seeing a psychiatrist for a couple of weeks when my mother decided to Google her name online only to find out that she was not even registered as a psychiatrist, but as an OBGYN. I had been seeing an OBGYN, who was prescribing psychiatric medications because this place could not find a certified psychiatrist. This kind of thing can be dangerous. I really do believe, from my experience especially, that ONLY a specialist in the mental health field should be prescribing psychiatric medications. Yes, she was a trained doctor, but it is so hard to pinpoint what’s right for an individual as it is. You really need to be an expert in your field of choice.
After leaving this doctor, I started seeing a psychiatric nurse practitioner. My first appointment with her was amazing and I was on a high after leaving her office. I thought she was going to change my life. However, I was gravely wrong. She was only in town once a week and she started regularly canceling appointments, so I had not seen her for over a month during a time of crisis. I was so desperate for help that I decided to reach out to my primary care physician. Luckily, she was able to help with some insomnia.
When I was at my lowest point with my depression, I started looking into holistic treatment centers. I found one in another state that seemed too good to be true, but also said they took my insurance. It was a miracle. They offered treatments such as Ketamine, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, Equine therapy, massage, CBT, DBT, and an entire list of other things. Unfortunately, when we started the process of getting the insurance approved, this place wanted a $4,000 down payment and refused to give a rundown of the expenses. The insurance company would have paid, but there were expenses that this place refused to be up front about, added on after you arrived, and it was very sketchy in general. If holistic treatment centers for mental illness were more regulated and easier to access financially, maybe we could all be a bit better off.
Something I think is a pressing issue in mental healthcare is insurance coverage. I have been admitted to psychiatric units a few times over the years. Insurance companies don’t always want to pay the full cost, especially if you stay more than a few days. I have had a couple of instances where I have stayed up to two weeks in a hospital for depression. When the bill came from the insurance company the first time it was a whopping $24,000. The reason that the insurance company refused was because the stay was “not medically necessary.” In other words I was not depressed enough, according to the insurance company. The insurance company, who did not see me, did not diagnose me, did not treat me or spend any time with me. Even after we appealed their decision, it was rejected and we still had to find a way to pay the bill. Luckily, a wonderful organization called “Charity Care” paid the entire bill for us.
There are so many flaws with the mental healthcare industry and just the healthcare industry as a whole, and my experiences alone can’t begin to touch on the many things that need to be improved in this system. We have a long way to go to make things better for people with mental illnesses, but this doesn’t mean you should be discouraged from making every effort to advocate for yourself and your treatment. Finding the right providers and medications for you is well worth it.