In the recent tragedy of the suspected suicide of acclaimed actor Robin Williams, the mental health debate has appeared on my social media feeds once again. As many of us remember him fondly for his roles in Aladdin, Jumanji, FernGully, Mrs. Doubtfire and so many more, we’re equally as rocked and bothered to hear of his passing from suicide. My heart hurts a little. It’s never hurt for a celebrity death before, but the thought of someone taking their own life because they can’t bear to be on this earth anymore, leaving behind three children, a huge fan base and countless other friends, is painful.
I scroll through my Facebook and notice comments about how easy it is to get help if you need it. We preach about the resources available and the mental health treatments centres may offer. I’ve recently finished my psychology degree and I’m eager to start my Master’s and enter the field, but here’s the thing: The mental health field is flawed. Despite our best efforts to try and help, we often fall short when doing exactly that.
While we have great campaigns such as Bell Let’s Talk Day, where over five million dollars are raised for mental health initiatives, we are still faced with wait times for services. As a country, we haven’t acknowledged psychologists as being insurable under provincial healthcare and the wait for a psychiatrist can be months. We have general practitioners prescribing medication without another prescription for therapy. We don’t have enough people who are registered counsellors or the services to provide it. Sure, family services offering a sliding scale are great, but what happens if you don’t click with the counsellor?
There’s really no other option for you.
I watched the mental health field fail one of my close friends this year.
We sat down to eat a late night snack and study together, which was typical routine for us. She started to tell me about how overwhelmed she had become and admitted she was feeling suicidal. For a few months, she had been on medication for bipolar disorder and she was frustrated that it was no longer working. She felt they were making her worse, so she had stopped taking them. Counsellors she had seen were not connecting with her and her family doctor wasn’t sure of what options to give her. Naturally, she felt helpless.
We sat and talked for about 45-minutes until she decided she wanted to go to the hospital. We lived across the street from a hospital, but in the past, the in-patient psychiatric program had not been beneficial for her. We called Connex Ontario, a free 24-hour health care line that will recommend and refer you to the nearest program. We found a hospital about a 15-minute drive from where we lived. We took a cab to the hospital and I helped her check in. When she told the nurse that she had stopped taking her medication a short time ago because she no longer felt they were working, a note was made on her file that she was “non compliant with medication.” We sat in the waiting room for about 20-minutes. She was interviewed then admitted.
My friend stayed in the psychiatric ward for a short time. Within the first 24-hours she was there, she had only seen the psychiatrist at her initial take in. Shortly after 24-hours, she was informed by a social worker that she did not qualify for any of the programs the hospital offered because her address was outside the region for which they provided services.
They told her they’d try to find her a doctor.
Luckily, a few days later, they found a psychiatrist who was nearby, specializing in young adults with mood disorders.
My friend has been under his care for about six months now and feels more stabilized than ever.
This doctor has also helped my friend with her attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) diagnosis, something she had to pay over $1,500 to obtain because The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) does not recognize adults with ADHD. While her story has a happy ending, there were years of torment: Trying to get a diagnosis, fighting for it, doctors claiming she was a drug addict because of recreational use in her youth and professionals claiming she was a teenager and her behaviour was “just a result of her hormones.”
The mental health field is not a pretty one. It’s not as easy as admitting there is a problem and getting help. Admitting there is an issue is not an easy one when you’re unstable. When delusions are taking over and you believe the world is out to get you, how are you supposed to step forward and stand up for yourself to get help?
Depression is not as easy to “cure” as prescribing an anti-depressant pill. The cost, the strain and the time it takes to treat mental illness is astronomical. Another friend notified me her medication is $250 monthly with benefits and I have no doubt she worries about the day she no longer has that assistance in paying for her medication.
When we say things like, “it’s so easy to get help,” we’re hiding the truth. It’s hard, exhausting and draining. You can’t just pick up the phone and get help.
Like in any health field, treatment is created through trial and error, and sometimes these errors cost us lives. When we minimalize how hard it is to get help, it puts an even bigger strain on those trying to seek it. The issue at hand is rarely that people don’t want help. The issue is that it is increasingly difficult to obtain it.
I wish I had a suggestion for how we can make the field better instead of just being a Negative Nancy, but I think we need to take a step back and evaluate. We need to see the amount of money we’re putting into mental health is not substantial. We need to start encouraging people to get into the mental health field.
While we will laugh a little less often without Robin Williams in the world, a suicide occurs nearly every 40-seconds. As the now late Williams was a high-profile celebrity who made many children, and adults, smile, we must see his struggle with depression and addiction as a way to learn, as a way to make things better for anyone else who may be fighting. Williams taught us so many things. In his death, we mustn’t stop learning his lessons.
I don’t feel right leaving this post without hope, and without a message of light at the end of the tunnel. Despite the difficulties that we’re presented with in the mental health field, there are services and resources that are always worth trying. What works for one person may not work for another, but it’s always worth taking a shot in receiving the help you’re, without a doubt, worthy of having:
- CONNEX ONTARIO: A free mental health, drug and alcohol, and gambling helpline. Available 24/7.
- KIDS HELP PHONE: A free telephone counselling service available for children and teens up to the age of 20.
- DISTRESS CENTRE LINES: A list of agencies that are available to call in case of a crisis in Ontario. Distress centres are organized by region/county.
You know of what happened with Daven. I shudder to think of what COULD have happened had he not taken the first step and said he was hearing things. It was still an emotional and scary ride, and he is still suffering. They have changed his meds, put him in touch with counsellors (not all of whom have been helpful), and luckily my mom and I are still hypervigilant about watching him. I dread the day when he becomes better at hiding it to the point where we may not notice anymore.
I agree with all your points here. As two people (you and I) who are so close to mental illness, I wish there was more we could do personally. I am, however, so glad you wrote this and will be passing this on.