Why “Just Getting Help” Is Easier Said Than Done

When you struggle with mental illness, everything is a chore. Getting out of bed. Talking to people. Routines, whether it be sticking to them or dealing with them being disrupted. It’s hard. There are things that help. Coping skills, therapy, medication, behavioral therapy tools, etc… But sometimes getting access to these is difficult.

 

I recently switched back to Kaiser Permanente as my health care provider. I have been away from them for three years now. In those 3 years, I maintained regular therapy, saw a psychiatrist, and *finally* got on a medication and dose that works for me. Coming back to Kaiser, I need to get in to see a psychiatrist and make sure that I stay on my meds, as one of the worst side effects (lethal rash) is most likely to occur when you aren’t on the medication regularly. Here are the steps involved in getting in to see a psychiatrist if you are a new patient (which I am, even though I had Kaiser for most of my life, and was a mental health patient with them for three years).

  1. Call the phone number on the mental health directory website, sit on hold for 2 minutes, have call answered by someone who can’t help you.
  2. Be told that I actually have to call another number, because this is the general line, and you have to call the general line first to be assessed for an emergency situation before you can call the mental health department.
  3. Call the mental health department, sit on hold for 3 minutes, speak to someone who tells you “you haven’t been here in a long time, you need to speak to triage,”and be transferred to triage.
  4. Wait 5 minutes on hold before a triage nurse answers. Answer some very pointed questions from the triage nurse (“You aren’t having thoughts about hurting yourself or someone else, riiiiiiiightttt?”) and then be told that a manager will call you back in 1-2 business days.
  5. When the manager calls you back in 1-2 days, they will do a slightly more in depth assessment and give you an appointment to see a therapist (even if you have been seeing the same non-Kaiser therapist for 3 years) 1-2 weeks out from the call.
  6. In 1-2 weeks, you will see the therapist, who will do a much more in depth assessment, and then get you an appointment with a psychiatrist approximately 4-6 from the day of your therapy appointment.
  7. Approximately 8 weeks from when you called, you will see a psychiatrist who can then prescribe you the medication you have been taking for 2 years. There is no guarantee that the psychiatrist will agree with your medication, and may attempt to change type or dosage of your medication.

This is arduous. It feels invasive and exhausting, even on the best of days. And there has to be a better way. There just has to be. I was told today that my primary care provider can prescribe a bridge dose for me until I see a psychiatrist, which is a blessing. But it is also another appointment, another copay, another person poking and prodding and asking the questions you come to dread when you struggle with mental health.

The stigma and baggage that comes along with depression, anxiety, bipolarity, BPD, PMDD and the like is already pretty overwhelming. When you add the hoops that need to be jumped through to get care, it’s overwhelming. I also made 3 appointments for my kids today and an obgyn appointment for myself. If I can make those appointments online, in seconds, easily and conveniently, why can’t we do the same to treat mental illness?

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