Mental Health

What I Learned About Navigating the Mental Health System

Photo by ali elliott

In my long and unavoidable experience with mental illnesses, I at first felt hopeful. Who wouldn’t, when you’re told you have numerous doctors at your disposal for help? My family and I had been exhausted by my violent and drastic mood swings. The entanglement of delusions and psychosis had long ago become too much to bear. I was entrusted to a mental hospital in Brattleboro, Vermont at age fifteen. This would be the first of many unsuccessful psychiatric hospital stays. I was roomed with another girl who had behavioral issues because of the lack of attention her parents were giving her, she explained to me as her lashing out. During the day we would attend groups together and fill out self-help workbooks, all of which barely scratched the surface for me.

 What bothered me most was how they herded us into rooms from one doctor to the next, all giving us new diagnosis and prognosis of a new medication plan that would save the day. Oh, how I wish I had as much hope for success that the doctors did.  They gave promises of improvement and made me feel like they could fix me (they all do) yet they all fail to succeed. And in the end, it’s me who fails. Leaving myself constantly wondering. Am I broken? Is there no one and nothing out there that can make the pain go away? Something to make my brain just go along and participate in “everyday normal life”, may I walk with the rest of them, blending in with normalcy.

I have been through a series of around thirty medications, plenty of therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists’ doctors, drug infusions, and even electric shock. I have really been around the bend and back when it came to “treatment” for my illness, spanning from age fifteen to my current thirty-six. Every time it was always a battle. If not, because of lack of help, then it was the financial aspect of treating mental illness. With insurance I was still forking out monthly $210 in prescriptions (which was nothing compared to the thousands it cost without) $80 in co-pays for med management, and $280 in co-pays for weekly therapy.  As for other treatments such as neurofeedback, EMDR and Ketamine infusions, they aren’t covered or even take insurance (I have yet to find one) so all of that is out of pocket.

The most recent were the Ketamine infusions, which cost around $500 a session. I remember my first infusion where the nurse came in and inserted the needle and hooked me up to an IV of fluids. Then she stepped out of the room, and as 5 or so minutes go by, I still felt no effects from the medication. So, when the nurse came back, I told her “Um, I’m sorry, but I don’t think this is working, I don’t feel any different or better” the nurse just giggled to herself and said “Well honey I wouldn’t expect you to, that is just saline, I didn’t inject the Ketamine yet” I just laughed and apologized for being an idiot. But when the infusion did start it was almost beautiful, a picture of my life laid out before me, with all the ways of getting what I needed and wanted in life. I saw my children playing and laughing. It was a great experience, but it isn’t for everyone. I even had a bad reaction one episode and starting yelling at the doctor, because I was insisting that he was trying to kill me. His wife had to come into the room and hug me until I calmed down.  So, I suppose it could go either way. I still feel it did help me get further down the path to wellness, but I don’t think it is a long-term solution.

I begin looking further into more advanced rehabs, but research has shown me that I couldn’t find one mental rehabilitation center that accepted Medicaid or Medicare in the US. The only ones I could find that took my insurance was a drug and alcohol rehab, that also treated secondary mental health issues. This is a problem. Why is it not important? Why are our brains, these concepts, so hard for people to grasp? It is a scary, long, hard, and insane up and down plunge through total darkness and we shouldn’t have to do it alone.

Don’t get me wrong, I think these facilities treating addictions are important. I just don’t understand why mental health is seemingly less important. Considering that the National Institute of Health states around half of the people who experience mental illness in their lives will also suffer a substance abuse disorder at some point, dots need to be connected here. Maybe there isn’t enough available medication to subside these symptoms people are enduring and they end up turning to other substances. I know I did.

Now I’m pushing forty and have a lifetime of pain and turbulence to navigate through still. But I do believe there is a sliver of hope, and for people that suffer from severe depression, anxiety, PTSD, bipolar, etc…sometimes that is all we need. Yes, it is debilitating, playing trial and error with your mental health, new meds, therapies, doctors, hoping to find what will work well for you. But that’s what you must keep doing. Not give up and hold onto that sliver of hope. Find that treatment that works, so you may be able to provide insight to someone else who suffers.

We must keep picking ourselves up. If we all stand up and request more help, more guidance, more treatment centers will open and hopefully they will become more affordable. According to the National Institute of Mental Illness, one in five US Americans suffer from some form of mental illness. In 2019, this was 51.5 million people. Don’t you think the world should provide more help to them? More access to resources, treatment, therapy, and medications? Knowledge is power, and we need to teach the world that there is more to mental illness, we need more help, fight the stigma.

About the Author

Ashley Cote was born and raised in the small town of Westminster, Vermont alongside her two brothers and two sisters. She is the oldest of her mother’s children and middle child of her father’s. After getting married young she had her first daughter in the state of Massachusetts where they lived. Ashley had her second daughter six years later while residing in Florida where she went to school to be a certified nursing assistant.

After discovering nursing wasn’t for her, Ashley and her family moved to North Carolina to be in the mountains, where she currently resides while attending school as a biology major.

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