Mental healthcare in the Maritimes also comes down to waiting it out (indefinitely) or paying to play.
I have been an advocate for my disorders since 2012. It’s been a grueling battle spanning two provinces – Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. I’ve written internationally for The Mighty, The Huffington Post, and Physcian’s Weekly on my struggles with misophonia – a disorder that causes fight flight from normal sounds like whistling and chewing. There is no treatment for misophonia, and curious persons can check out www.misophoniaeducation.com for more information.
This story, though, isn’t about my lesser-known condition. It’s about Anxiety, Obsessive Thoughts (Perhaps OCD, but not diagnosed), and Depression. Disorders as old as time – these mental illnesses have been studied. There are treatments, and there are numerous groups that aim to combat stigma. I commend them for their efforts. I’ve noticed in the past 10 years how much easier it is to discuss mental illness with my friends and family. There is no shame when I inform a friend I had a panic attack and can’t show. That’s a great development – but it’s not enough. This focus on stigma-busting and awareness has done a great job, but it’s not stigma that’s harming mental health patients in The Maritimes.
All the awareness in the world cannot help somebody who gets their first appointment with mental health services – perhaps from the ER, a self-referral, or a doctor referral, only to be told in their general evaluation, “Yes, we understand you need care, but the wait list is 1 to 2 years.”
If you aren’t suicidal, a danger to yourself or others, you can expect to wait 12+ months to see a psychologist or psychiatrist (some emergency sessions could happen for specific patients). The criteria for care seems to be – “you don’t want to die, just wait it out”. That is, unless you’re one of the fortunate to have insurance – or willing to pay out of pocket. A service that ranges from $100-$150 per private session without insurance.
Mental Health awareness is important. However, we need immediate action to fix a broken system that pushes people past the limits of the ‘socialized’ system, desperate for care, many have no choice but to go without treatment, or go into debt (or hope to hell they have private insurance) just to get by.
The first step to getting help – making that call, going to your doctor, and admitting that you have a problem isn’t easy for people with mental illness. Imagine finally making this very brave step only to realize that after busting through stigma and your own emotional battle with finding care – that there is no care.
People who are struggling from mental illness should not have to self-diagnose, rely on sketchy internet videos and apps, find library books in hope for answers, or be told that they should “just try yoga” or “meditate” (all suggestions I’ve been given when discussing the lack of care). Mental illness is a serious thing – and it requires medical attention. The problem is that there is no medical attention to be found, and the ERs are already full.
Have you ever approached an ER doctor with mental illness? They often have few suggestions. Many suggest you go to mental health services – where you’ll be sent back to this loop of waiting.
I don’t know the answer. I’m not a policy-maker, and despite studying political science, I know that these issues are complex. I don’t know how to make more mental health professionals stay in New Brunswick. I don’t know what can be done. What I do know is that mental health in the Maritimes needs to become a hot-button issue.
We deserve better than a service that requires us to wait it out (until we get worse) or paying to play. This isn’t what our socialized healthcare system is about. It’s time that we see mental health for the serious issue it is.