Here at TG Geeks we believe access to mental health services should be affordable (as with other health care) for all. We also believe it is our duty to share information that may be of help to others in need.
Our good friend and contributor, Hamish Downie, came across and sent us the following speech from a close friend of his, Ellen Manning. It was delivered at a mental health forum in Newcastle, Australia.
As you read through you can see the struggles this young woman experienced, but was able to overcome with a little bit of help.
If you are struggling, please see the bottom of this article for some resources that may help you find your way back to health.
A Cry For Help
I have been what I call functional, for about 18 months now. Prior to that, I was unwell for about 3 years, give or take.
I had my first Major depressive episode, or nervous breakdown at the age of 24, and lost twelve months of my life. There were days and weeks in between then and now, but never months or years.
This time, I was saved by two three plus week stays in Toronto Private Hospital. I got my life back. I now even hold down a part time job. A job I love and a job I have had since last September.
Although I have been diagnosed with depression and Generalized Anxiety Disorder since 2004, this is the first time I have been hospitalized. Before finding out about Toronto, I had two brief stays in the Mater. They did not help at all. Worse still, the first time I went to the Mater, I was taken there by my partner. I had not slept properly for months. I had not eaten properly in even longer. I sat on my bed rocking and screaming in pain. I did not want to die, but I could not go on living like that. Hospital was my last resort, my final hope. I was sent home. The Dr told me that there was nothing I could do in hospital that I couldn’t do at home. I did not kill myself.
I spent another few weeks in pain. Suffering. Hurting. Only, on top of the pain, there was the pain of knowing, there is no one to help me. There is nothing anyone can do.
Several weeks later, I messaged my mum. I can’t do it any more. I think I need to try the hospital again. We got to the hospital about 10:00, there was a four hour wait. I cried. I cried and I cried and I cried, without relief. The nurses brought out bottled water, and I cried and I cried and I cried. I begged my mum, “it’s ok, let’s go home. I promise I won’t bother anyone anymore.” NO. and I cried and I cried and I cried. When I finally got in to see the psychiatrist, to sum it up, she said, “I’m tired just looking at you. What do you want to do?” and I cried. “How about I take the pressure off you and tell you that you need to stay.” I handed over my handbag, my phone, my jewellery. I was taken into a sterile room. I was weighed, I was measured and I was led through big locked doors. The first time, I spent about a week and a half. I stopped crying and then I saw a psychiatrist and was sent home. I went home on a Wednesday. I was home about a week. I had several calls from the suicide call back service, some were as perfunctory as “are you going to kill yourself? ” “no” ók, talk to you tomorrow” *click* . There was one guy who was awesome… “How was your day? What did you get up to today? Any dramas? See anyone? What have you got planned for tomorrow? What have you got planed to keep yourself safe?” Etc etc etc. I’m very grateful for him. I went back in, and again, I spent most of my time in my room, scared of my fellow in mates. Scared of the woman who aggressively walked the halls talking to herself. Scared of the man who told me to check my pills, they were part of the mind control. Scared of the girl whose wrists were bandaged and started to bleed again when she would hysterically throw herself at the doors. I was told I would need to share a room with the girl who randomly screamed at the nurses station, so I left. I did not kill myself. While I was in the hospital, I was given a lot of Diazapam while I was in there.
There used to be an ad about depression on TV, that basically said, we can fix you, see your GP. I wish you could access my records to see just how many times I saw a GP. I attend a practice that has several GPs, so I didn’t always see the same one, but I kept going. I kept going and asking for help. I didn’t kill myself.
I would go and see the GP and sometimes get prescribed a new anti depressant, because the one I was taking since last time obviously wasn’t working. I had one GP tell me that depression is just like waves and I just had to ride it out. Helpful
I was linked into the mental health team. Mainly to see the Psychiatrist because the GPs had not had a lot of success with the Anti depressants that they prescribed me,. At one point it seemed as though my life was the GP prescribing me a new medication and the Psychiatrist taking me off it. Again, it was often a different Psychiatrist than the one I had seen before, but I kept going. I kept asking for help. I did not kill myself.
On one visit to the Psychiatrist, he asked me why I had not been seeing my Case Worker. I did not have one. I did not know I could get one. I had a Case Worker? He was not one for doing things “how they were done” and he saw me for an hour every week. Once he left, I was told that I wasn’t in crisis any more so I was being discharged. I am very grateful for him. Perhaps we need people like him to be less the exception and more the rule.
I am lucky. Despite not being able to cope with life, and wanting to end it. I have a brilliant life. I have friends. I have friends who came over and just sat on the lounge while I wailed and screamed. I have friends who opened the door to a blubbering mess and just turned up the TV volume. I have friends who answered calls at hours that you can’t mention in polite company. I have a mum and dad who are a call or a visit away. I have a 92 year old Grandmother who is putting off dying until she knows I will be Ok. She’s Irish, so her strategy is to feed me and ply me with tea.
I have a support network that most people would die for. I did not kill myself. Where the professionals let me down, my family held me up.
I was acutely unwell for three years, it had become who I was, and yet my friends, my support network stuck around. They did not give up on me.
My friend, Rebecca, messaged me one morning and invited me to visit. Some days were worse than others. I messaged her and told her it was not a good day, and she told me to come over anyway. I might as well be miserable at her place and have a change of scenery. I rang the mental health team to try to get another appointment, and I kept trying. (The receptionists were so good to me. When I couldn’t reach my Case Worker they ALWAYS found someone to put me on to or to call me back. Your admin staff you are getting right. Don’t change them. )
They could get me an appointment at 3, but I had to pick up my step kids from school. You see, I had a life, and that life went on even when I couldn’t. I had let everyone around me down so much and for so long, I had to do SOME things.
Rebecca’s house is calm and peaceful, a real place of solace, but even there, I cried and vomited and I cried and I cried and I cried. She made me call back up and see if I could still get that three o’clock appointment, and she would take me. Right. So. I had to take the car to my partner’s work, so he could pick up the kids. Which we did and she walked with my bawling self from near Market town to James Fletcher. She had to encourage me and support me the whole way. I could not breath. I could not stand. I don’t know how she managed to get me to do it. I sat in the waiting room, and I cried and I cried and I cried. We got in to see the Psychiatrist, a man who intimidated me and who I always felt as though I was bothering. It was only that Rebecca stepped up and asked, “She has Private Health insurance, what does it take to get into a private hospital? I checked that my insurance would cover me, and he sent a message to the intake officer at Toronto where he used to work, and I was heading in after the weekend. It was a very long weekend, and there was no reason that THEY could help me when no one else could or would.
I went in, and they won’t take people who are at immediate danger of harming themselves, or psychotic etc While I was there though, I had regular Psychologist appointments. I had information sessions about anxiety, depression, thought challenging, mindfulness and so many other things. I have brought the folder with me if anyone is interested. Both places had morning walks, which is a small thing, but meant a lot. I was allowed brief phone calls on a communal phone at the mater, but I had my mobile at Toronto.
I have Crohns disease, so I have hospital coverage. It’s something that is hard to afford, but it makes a huge difference with the health problems with Crohns and as far as my depression and anxiety goes, I think it saved my life.
When you have a mental health issues, you attract other people with mental health issues, and I have a friend who has started a scheme, To Give a Better Day, where she raises money to sponsor people with mental health issues to have Private health insurance. Without it, the options are either extremely limited or just non-existent.
The key issues as I see them, are mainly the access to psychologists, psychiatrists, and medium to long-term care. I need a psychiatrist who will look at my medications and tweak them because I am still having bad days. It’s only days, so it’s mostly manageable, but it has a big impact on my quality of life. I can’t afford a private psychiatrist, and the psychiatrists with the Community Mental Health team don’t want to touch them. I’m on a lot of meds already I’m told.
What is working and what is not working? Viewing mental illness as a chronic condition, people will struggle for a long time, not just in the one crisis moment. I went back and forward with being suicidal, I had weeks where I saw the light. What I didn’t have, apart from my own making and struggling, was a medium to long-term plan and resources. Everyone from Case Workers, to the suicide Call Back service, to Psychiatrists are all funded and employed to avert a crisis, not help or heal a person.
I haven’t touched on it yet, but I see a psychologist under the subsidised mental health plan, but when I was acutely unwell, I saw her once a fortnight, and very quickly ran out of my ten subsidised appointments, and I can’t afford to pay $160/ visit to keep seeing her, even though I desperately needed her.
The suicide rates alone tell you that it’s not working.
I hope in telling you my story, I have covered the challenges, barriers, enablers and areas of collaboration in support of individuals; access to the right services and planning and coordination of services.
National Suicide Prevention Line
Veterans Crisis Line
1-800-273-TALK (8255) Press 1
National Alliance on Mental Illness
Crisis Call Center
The Trevor Project
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