Mental Health Care is a Privilege - It Shouldn’t Be

I am 21 years old, and I have spent 10 years of my life struggling with various mental illnesses including PTSD, Clinical Depression, and Anorexia. We are in a time when mental illness is becoming more accepted by society, and everyone from medical professionals to friends on Facebook post about “getting help”. The difficulty with this is that it assumes that help is available and accessible to everyone, and that there are systems in place in order to support those with mental illnesses. While this is not entirely inaccurate, it grossly overestimates the services available to those that need help, and the general public’s ability to deal with them.

Be honest: if a friend told you that they had be been considering suicide recently, would you know what to do? What about if you were concerned about a friend who was not eating enough or if you knew someone that was experiencing flashbacks from a recent traumatic event? For the first question your answer is likely to get help. But what form will that “help” take? Would you call 911, potentially putting your friend through an extremely traumatic event only for them to be turned away at the hospital? Or worse, they could be admitted into the hospital where their suicidal ideation is treated not with therapy, but medication, and they’re left potentially worse off than they were before. If your friend is actively suicidal, then the best solution is often to call a crisis helpline. The workers at the helpline will know more about how to move forward. If they’re not actively suicidal, then in a university setting it may be better to refer them to one of the mental health resources on campus. Neither of these options are particularly good. The hospital is only useful for keeping someone alive, and the resources on campus often have long wait times and are limited by the resources they have available.

Ultimately what it comes down to is that good mental health services cost money, and while in Canada and Ontario some services are covered, not all of them are. Those that do often have long wait times. Furthermore, simply finding these resources is nearly impossible and requires someone to advocate for themselves when they are in one of their weakest moments. Often they don’t even know what’s going to help them, or even where to start.

Currently, I am trying to recover from anorexia. But finding the resources with which to help myself is incredibly difficult as a young adult, and was completely impossible when I was a teenager. I was turned away again, and again from the hospital. I was referred from one mental health professional to the next, leaving me more broken than when I started. I gave up. I took a break. It was only in my 3rd year of University that I decided it was worth it to try again. I had to go out and find the resources that would help me on my own. I sent an email to a health centre specializing in eating disorders and got an appointment with a social worker, who then gave me a choice between getting a referral to another centre where my initial assessment would likely be in a couple of weeks, or to wait 3 months to get an initial assessment at that centre. I chose the first of the two, but even then, that took multiple calls to arrange my first appointments. At that time I had access to a nurse practitioner, but I still had to wait another month to get an appointment with a nutritionist, and 3 months to get my first appointment with a therapist.

About a month ago I decided a higher level of care in a residential setting would be a good idea for me moving forward. If I were to use OHIP, I would have a 4 year wait time for entering the program. Even with my parent's private insurance, it will cost about $160 per day. As a student I cannot afford that, so I am fortunate that my parents are able to foot the bill. I can only imagine being in a circumstance where your child so desperately needs that higher level of care, and you cannot afford it. So next time you post about mental health with a poster saying “help is out there--you just have to ask,” first check to make sure that “help” is out there. If it is, then provide a list of resources. If not, then don’t just advocate for people to speak up, advocate for making these resources exist and available.

You can find a list of crisis services for your area through https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/find-help/index.shtml for the United States, and https://suicideprevention.ca/need-help/ for Canada.