My saga of finding mental health care

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Today is my first counseling appointment since I left Idaho almost a year ago. I put off finding a new one for a while because I still had medicines that I thought were working. Yeah, I know. They weren’t but I was clinging to the need to save money and decided I wanted to wait. Then I started running out of my meds and was in the position of needing a doctor to prescribe me new ones. Thus started my endeavor to get into the mental health care here in Oregon.

As I said in my previous post, mental health care here is a joke. It might be better up in Portland, but in the area where I live it sucks. It took from December to April, with me calling at least once a week, to finally get them to give me an appointment.

It started with me calling in December because I was running low on meds and had no more refills from my prescriptions in Idaho. I called and asked for an appointment. They took my information down and told me it could take one to two weeks before someone would call me. That was a little frustrating but I was still okay on having some meds so I went ahead and accepted that. They didn’t call me back.

Three weeks after my initial phone call, I called again. I repeated my request and then told them I’d been waiting for a phone call back. They apologized and said they’d send my information on to the clinic for counseling. When I mentioned I needed the med management, they told me that the doctor who’d worked with them retired. They told me they could still get me a counselor and asked me if I wanted that. I said yes. When I hung up, I started looking for a med manager. It was now January and I didn’t have what I needed.

Two weeks passed and still no phone call. I called back. The woman I spoke with said she’d look into it and call me right back. This was in the morning. I waited until the close of business and heard nothing. She didn’t call at all that week. This was beginning to piss me off.

I called again the following week. I finally got someone to talk to me and told I’d be called back within 48 hours. Lo and behold, they actually followed through. I got a call from the office. Unfortunately I wasn’t in a position to talk so I asked if they could call me back the next day around the same time. She said yes. The next day I didn’t get the phone call. But the day after that I did. So we did the intake evaluation over the phone and they decided I was “eligible for their services”. Apparently being diagnosed with bipolar and anxiety wasn’t enough for them. They said they’d call me back the next week to set up an appointment.

Guess what didn’t happen? We’re now into February. At the end of January I had two seizures in a row. My husband took me to the doctor on February 1st and I got my Lamictal renewed. Lamictal is an anti-seizure drug that my last psychiatrist was using to also deal with my bipolar. It isn’t enough to handle my mood swings, but it manages to take the edge off the worst of them.

So once I get back from the doctor, the next day I call again to talk to the mental health people. They say they’ll “look into it” and call me back the next day. I told them I’d heard that before and nothing had been done. They assured me it would happen. It didn’t.

I sent an email to my regular doctor asking him for a list of potential doctors and counselors in Salem. He mailed me a two page list. I started calling the day I got it. Two days of calling and I was still without care. They didn’t take Medicare. The doctors weren’t accepting new patients. They didn’t prescribe meds. They only did family/marital/pediatric counseling. And on and on.

I tried McMinnville. If you didn’t live in Yamhill County, you weren’t getting help there. Everything was tied to the county’s mental health department. So that one was a bust as well. I was really getting frustrated. And desperate. My mood swings were starting to get out of control.

All through February and March I called at least once a week, sometimes twice, to harass my local department of mental health and push them into getting me in like they promised. Nothing. Then last week I got a phone call from them. They wanted to set me up with an appointment, but did I still need/want their service?

What kind of stupid, fucked up question is that? I’ve been trying since DECEMBER to get help. So I set up an appointment. Then I asked about med management. I asked them if they’d replaced the one who’d retired. They seemed puzzled by that question since their med manager was still working for them. Can you guess how pissed off I was at this? Then they told me they weren’t the office local to me. They were the one in the town that’s a 45 minute drive from here. I jumped on it and set up my appointment for counseling. I’ll get referred to the med manager through today’s appointment. They offered to set me back up with my local office, but I’m seriously thinking I’ll stay with the other one – if they prove to be decent and don’t treat me like shit.

The problems I had are indicative of what’s going on in the mental health care field today. Limited services, a lack of qualified doctors/counselors, and no real federal/state funding to fix the situation. Mental illnesses are still stigmatized and those of us with them are treated like second class citizens by the medical field. I am so tired of being made to feel like I’m less than human all because my brain isn’t wired correctly.

I want to put an end to the stigma, the poor care, the too many people without medications or counseling or whatever else they may need because no one seems to care. The only way this is going to happen is if sweeping reforms are made to the health care field. We need to make our voices heard. We need to let the world know we aren’t going away and that we deserve the same level of care and compassion as those with physical illnesses/injuries.

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