When I was in high school, like many teenagers, I struggled with depression. This depression manifested itself as anger towards the world around me and I had thoughts of violence. These thoughts spilled out into the open through an online blog that was discovered and reported to the authorities. I was involuntarily institutionalized for almost a full month. During the initial intake, I was interrogated with irrelevant questions about my beliefs on the subject of religion; flattering stuff for an angsty atheist teen. While I was taking my meds, one of the nurses commented “we don’t think you’re psychotic,” and while my memory of this time is a bit of a blur, I recall that it wasn’t a good experience as far as getting the help I needed. There were people that worked there that claimed I was being “superficial”, and that I was “anti-social”. I was released with a diagnosis of a psychotic disorder and medicated with antipsychotics.
Fast forward a few years to adulthood, I had been living on my own when I got kicked off my parents’ health insurance due to a missed appointment and cut off from the medication I was on. Several months passed and I grew more volatile until I started to experience full-blown psychosis with delusions and hallucinations. I was admitted to a psych ward, by my choosing this time, and diagnosed with schizophrenia. After leaving the hospital, still uninsured, I had to go through the process of getting insurance to cover the cost of my medication.While relying on charities to cover the cost of my medication, I applied for government health care benefits. It was a few months before I was able to get on government health care coverage, but I was able to do so and continued to recover.
As I navigated my recovery process, I went through countless therapists and psychiatrists, most of whom treated me like an experiment rather than a person, and cycled through even more medication adjustments along the way. I would occasionally find a therapist or psychiatrist that I liked and they would move on and I would have to deal with another one. It did feel like I was being passed around without any tangible results in my recovery.
Three main issues seem to be plaguing the mental health care system.The most important issue is a lack of funding for mental health facilities. At least two of the centers that offered mental health services in my hometown shut down due to lack of funding. Another issue facing the mental health care system in the U.S. in my experience is poor training among those who work within the system. While I am fortunate enough to have had some excellent therapists and psychiatrists, I have also had the misfortune of having more than my fair share of mental health professionals who seemed to be inept at grasping even simple soft skills required for such a field. Skills such as empathy and listening are just two of the soft skills that seemed lacking in a lot of the professionals I worked with during my recovery process. For example, I have been into therapy sessions where the therapist would dismiss my feelings, had a psychiatrist who, after I suggested I improve my diet, responded “that hasn’t worked for you,” and didn’t pay attention to what I had said, and a therapist who would jump to conclusions about my beliefs based on limited information I gave them. A third glaring issue facing the mental health field is a shortage of psychiatrists. In my home state of Indiana, there is a small number of psychiatrists in proportion to the need for them. This might be due to the barriers facing those who seek to become certified in the state of Indiana as there is a lot of red tape that would be psychiatrists have to go through to be able to practice in Indiana.
The solutions to these challenges might just be as simple as increased funding, improved training, and raising awareness of the need for mental health professionals. These solutions, if they are to be successfully implemented, will have to start with spreading awareness of the prevalence of mental illness and combating the stigma attached to it. Part of the task of fighting the stigma of mental illness will be in changing cultural attitudes towards mental illness and prioritizing treatment, prevention, and education programs for the general public. Our culture’s current attitude towards mental health and well being is that it is secondary to work and it shouldn’t take precedence over a person’s mental and emotional well being. Changing societal perceptions of mental illness and those who are diagnosed with these illnesses is a pivotal first step towards any kind of meaningful change. Any attempt at improving mental health services without first addressing the stigma of mental illness will most likely fall flat. There has to be a shift in thinking for mental illness and its treatment to be properly addressed. This shift in thinking is something I fear will not happen anytime soon.
Despite my personal cynicism, there are organizations in the U.S. working to help those who struggle with mental illness. The National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, is one such organization. Their website can be visited here. With the help of organizations such as NAMI, perhaps there is a bit of hope for those with mental illness and their loved ones.