Navigating the Mental Health System

ashley-batz-1298-unsplashOur family has been both amazed and perplexed by the mental health system. Amazed by the volume of available services and resources, and at times perplexed by how to navigate them. It seems to be the experience of many people, that crisis gets service. However, what can you do when a diagnosis is suspected and/or emerging? Where can you go for screening, prevention and education? My suggestion… whether you are advocating for yourself or a loved one — start a log. Write down your observations, thoughts, feelings experiences, noting specific days and times. Think of it as detective work. Build a case. Search for clues. Solve the case. Survey family members, educators, anyone who is in your relational world that has a window into the behaviours you are trying to discern. Trust your gut and don’t stop searching for answers until you are satisfied. Start by bringing these concerns to your Doctor. Share any family history of mental illness. Query possible screening tools and begin the process of putting the puzzle pieces together in search for answers. This paperwork is often filled out by you and potentially some of the people you surveyed. Ultimately, just get started. If your GP is not knowledgeable in the matters you are presenting, ask for a referral to another Doctor or specialist: paediatrician (for children under the age of sixteen) psychologist, or psychiatrist for a thorough assessment. In my book, When Lightning Strikes Twice I talk about the importance of being patient and persistent, but mostly, persistent. Be prepared to wait, and sometimes even pay. A lot of services are covered under OHIP and or personal health benefits, but some are not. Public and private resources are available. Public services via school systems: in-board Psychologists, Child and Youth Workers, Social Worker, Counsellors. Canadian Mental Health Association has both adult and adolescent walk-in and follow up services including psychiatric care amongst counselling and other resources for the both individuals and families. Private services: via psychologists & counsellors. While of course these are not an exhaustive list, my hope is that they serve as a starting point for further exploration.

Mental Health System Wish List

I wish that diagnosing a mental illness was an exact science, as simple as getting a brain scan.

I wish that finding the right medications was like taking blood work-once- and know precisely what doses are required so that patients aren’t always guinea pigs of doctor’s best guesses.

I wish there were no side effects to medication-period.

I wish that inpatient and outpatient services worked more collaboratively to expedite processes and eliminate errors.

I wish that all outpatient services were all in one place.

I wish that treatment was provided for the whole family and not just the person with a mental illness.

I wish that outpatient services were available when they are needed rather than when they are offered. One year wait lists and beyond….really?

I wish that all counselling services were free and accessible for everyone.

I wish that the ER would take patients at face value and have unlimited space to accommodate a potential break down of the patient or their family system.

I wish medical passports existed whereby the most pertinent information was provided on spec to eliminate the telling and re-telling of your history and current symptoms and concerns.

I wish that every hospital had their own full-time psychiatry staff.

I wish that there were care units that group patients with respect to their condition (does one have to be in the same ward where a patient is screaming all night that Martians are invading the world?)

Ultimately, I wish that mental illness didn’t exist and that none of these services would even be needed.