Eight Thousand and Counting

mentally ill person iStock_000003209413SmallEight thousand patients recently went begging for mental health care.

That’s because a large nonprofit hospital and clinic system shut down its psychiatric hospital and outpatient clinic.

“Christ, we should do a march,” my cousin says.  “Karma Health Services doesn’t have a psychiatrist.”  (The mental health clinic gave her a list of mental health services, and, yes, Karma was actually on it.)

By all means, discontinue treatment for people with brain disorders and then be surprised by the consequences.  The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) said that 13.4 percent of adults in the United States in 2008 received treatment for a mental health disorder.  SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found that only 58.7 percent of adults in the United States with a serious mental illness (SMI) in 2008 received treatment, usually outpatient services and prescription medication.

This cartoon shows how it sometimes is:

mentally ill cartoonMy cousin is having a small breakdown.  She is usually fine, she has a good job, and her chemical imbalance is controlled by psychotropic medications.

But she can’t get one of her prescriptions filled this week because she hasn’t been able to see a psychiatrist since last spring. And the only psychiatrist her insurance covers can’t see her until next week.  (There aren’t enough psychiatrists in the region now.)

Having seen my cousin in a state of very painful psychosis in the hospital, I believe it’s better for her to have the meds than not.

Without access to the meds, the level of illness can go up a notch.  I was recently contacted by an “ex-” (“Hello” after 30 years) who seemed to be having a breakdown.  He said he had survived an experience of extreme violence, and his disturbing emails led me to suggest he see a psychiatrist.   Given the lack of mental health education and the stigma of brain disorders, I shouldn’t have surprised when he replied that he was the last person who needed mental health care.

My cousin hasn’t slept in four days and is obviously very anxious, so she stayed here last night.   “What are you watching, Shoah?”  I asked when I found her crying at 3 a.m.  Now I am prescribing rom/coms with Sandra Bullock and Meg Ryan.

We have an appointment with my GP, who is more knowledgeable about mental health medication than some.  I am going with her to explain her mental health history.  She has a more serious problem than “Put this woman on Prozac.”

So all will be well, but it’s kind of touch-and-go.

4 thoughts on “Eight Thousand and Counting

  1. I’m so sorry to hear about your cousin. Flawed as our NHS is, at least it exists and in an emergency you can usually see someone quite quickly. Good luck with your GP.

    • Karen, this is such a horrible situation with the mental health care just “gone”! I’m all in favor of the NHS and truly hope so-called “Obamacare” will develop into that in the U.S.

  2. I am less sanguine than Kaggsy about our own system. Particularly where mental health problems in young people are concerned the numbers who go undiagnosed and/ or untreated are appalling and the waiting list to see a professional a lot longer than next week. I too hope your cousin gets the help she needs.

  3. Alex, I can only imagine. People here are very badly educated about mental health: it’s not something one bothers to learn about unless it strikes oneself or a loved one. It is sad to read about the undiagnosed and untreated, and insurance coverage for mental illness usually differs significantly from so-called physical illness, because big companies often sub-contract it out to smaller companies. Although I often read articles about antidepressants being overprescribed, I seldom read about the problems caused by lack of treatment. And, Good God, we’re about to see much more of those in our area, I think. I

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