I’m not saying my mental health is more fucked than anyone else’s, or deserves to be seen to before anyone else.
But what I am saying, is that the waiting periods to see a psychologist are far too long. I’ve battled with my mental illness for many years, and I’m starting to come to the realization that half my problem is that I had stopped bothering trying to seek therapy of any description.
I know that might sound a little self-destructive, but hear me out.
I first saw a psychiatrist when I was under the age of 5.
He was trying to get inside my little, child brain, to understand what was happening around me, and whether I should be placed in the care of my drug-addicted Mum, in a dangerous house that had pedophiles, drug addicts and criminals coming in at all hours of the day and night, or my Dad, who hadn’t so much as raised his voice at me, ever.
When he visited me at my Mum’s house, I would be told by my Mum and Step-Dad that I should ‘tell the man you want to live with me, or all your toys will be sold and I won’t see you’.
When he visited my Dad’s house, my Dad told me to ‘tell the man the truth’ to the questions he asked.
Do you know who the psychiatrist thought was the better option? My Mum.
And so, my poor relationship with psychiatrists, psychologists and counselors began.
I didn’t see anyone else about my mental health again until I was 15.
I had been living with my Dad since I was seven (after the Family Court finally realized who the right parent to live with was), because I was a missing person for 8 months because my Mum and Step-Dad took off when they couldn’t pay a drug-debt.
Growing up, I had always been a quiet person, and found myself feeling a lot more mature than my peers most of the time. I didn’t know what depression, or anxiety, or mental illness was back then. I just thought that I was different.
And then when I was 15, a close friend of mine died, and I was encouraged to see a counselor, who I went to see at the local hospital. Even in a town of less than 2,000, it took me 4 weeks to get an appointment.
Then, the first thing the counselor did was point at the scars on my wrists and tell me I was obviously not depressed and just wanted attention.
I immediately disliked her.
I had a second appointment a couple of weeks later, which I decided to go to, just in case I had misjudged the counselor, or hadn’t given her enough time. But all she did was ask me why I was so sad, and then told me if I couldn’t tell her, that meant nothing was wrong.
I didn’t bother seeing her again.
I didn’t see another psychologist or mental health professional until I was 19.
By the time I was 19, I had finished High School, I had ran away from home, lived in poverty to the point of living in the street, moved to a big city to start University, moved in with a boyfriend, broken up with him, moved to an Aunt’s house, moved out with another boyfriend who was abusive to me, and began to realize that there was something seriously wrong with my mental health.
One day, I broke down and cried and cried and cried, walking around the neighbourhood after dark for hours. I was having terrible thoughts, panic attacks, mood swings and felt like I was all alone. It was then that I decided I needed help.
I went to a doctor, who ‘diagnosed’ me with depression, gave me some anti-depressant medication and sent me on my way. It wasn’t until I went back to the same doctor’s surgery and saw a different GP that they set up a Mental-Health care plan, which included a referral to see a psychologist.
I said I couldn’t afford to see someone. They put me in a queue to see someone in the public system.
That someone was a 45 minute drive away, and was only available to see me every 2 weeks. But I was desperate for help, so I drove the distance and waited for my appointments.
This psychologist was the first one who ever actually seemed like she cared about helping me get better. She asked me about my family history, asked me about my relationships and my studies and my home life. We began to dig a bit deeper, and I remember her telling me that she thought I should get a proper diagnosis from a psychiatrist, but that we’d organize it in the next session.
She moved states the following week, and I never heard from her again.
At 23, I decided to give it another shot.
After the last psychologist, I gave up on seeking mental health for a few years. I had broken up with my abusive boyfriend by this point, but the relationship was incredibly damaging to me. He had told me I was a psycho, that there was something wrong with my brain, that I deserved the things that happened to me as a child, that I should just hurry up and kill myself – among the physical abuse and the rest of it. I had carried the weight of his words ever since.
That burden eventually became one of the reasons I didn’t have much success with relationships after that. My self-esteem was at an all-time low, I was lonely and I had to force myself out of bed just to go to work. I had started taking hard drugs and wasn’t in a good place.
But I finally built up the courage to speak to my (new) doctor, and asked her to help me, because I felt like I wasn’t getting better, I was only getting worse.
I asked her whether she thought I should be diagnosed by a psychiatrist, but she said no.
She upped the dosage of my medication and made a new Mental Health plan, referring me to a counselor close by.
I went to my first session, and was bitterly disappointed. This time, I walked into the room to find a man who spent half our session on the phone, and the other half telling me that the depression was all in my head and what I needed to do was change my attitude.
I told him I didn’t understand what that meant, because I was obviously trying to get better, otherwise I wouldn’t be in his office.
He then said “I don’t know why you’re here anyway, you seem like an intelligent person’.
I went to the doctor again when I was 25.
I told her straight out ‘I think I might kill myself one day’.
She upped my dose of anti-depressant medication, referred me to Yarrow Place (a service for women who have been raped) and recommended I join a gym.
I remember her saying ‘…Swimming is good for the mind.’
To keep things in perspective here, I never mentioned to this doctor I had been raped, that is something she simply assumed. The only other thing she did was give me a list of the crisis phone numbers I could call if I wanted to.
I contacted Yarrow Place and asked when their next available appointment was and they told me that unless it was an emergency (in their eyes?), the next appointment wouldn’t be for the following month.
I wanted to cry. Why was it so hard to get the help I needed?
Here, in the present day, I’m 26 years old.
I went to my (new) doctor in March this year, and said I really think I need to see someone about my mental health. I told him that I had been feeling down for quite some time, and believed that medication wasn’t going to help me.
He asked me straight out ‘…What could possibly make you so sad?’
This doctor is a nice enough guy, but he’s not a psychologist. I didn’t feel comfortable telling him much, and to be perfectly honest, I was kind of hoping to untangle all these years of feelings with someone who was qualified to do so. So I said ‘lots of things’ and he asked me to fill out the Mental Health Questionnaire that I’d filled in a dozen times before.
This time though, when he said he was going to make a Mental Health Care Plan for me, I asked him if I could be the person to choose who I was referred to. He said that I could, but that if they’re private practices, there might be a cost involved. I said I didn’t care, so he sent me away to research who I wanted to see, and to come back in a week and he’d write up a referral.
My doctor wrote the referral, and the very next day, I contacted the practice via email to organize my first appointment. The receptionist told me the first available appointment with the psychologist I wanted wouldn’t be until June.
My heart sank.
I asked her if there was anyone else I could see from the practice sooner. She gave me a date in late May and said it was probably best just to wait for my preferred psychologist, and that she would put me on a cancellation list, just in case a space became available.
I decided to grit my teeth a bare it, regardless of the wait or the cost, so that I can try and get better.
It’s now May 30th, and my first appointment is June 13th. I’ve been waiting for 3 months, with the only other alternative option being to present myself to the emergency department and be evaluated, and probably released the same day with no real therapy.
I’m just trying to get better.
There are days where I drive home from work and honestly consider veering off into a pole, a tree or a ditch.
There are nights when I unpack the dishwasher and hold the knives a little too long, considering the ways I could use them. There are times when I wake up at night in a cold sweat and want to vomit my guts up or scream my lungs out.
There are days when I’m jealous of the people who get to go to therapy.
And then those moments pass, and I try again. I wake up to another day, and try to be optimistic. There are times when I have arguments with myself in my head about whether I should be here, and I have to force myself to put one foot in front of the other and keep moving towards something that I can’t quite see yet.
I don’t need pills. I need therapy. But because I haven’t tried to kill myself yet, by professional measures, I’m fine. That’s just the way it is.
But the problem is, it shouldn’t be this way.
How many people has the system failed? I think about this every day. How loud do we have to scream to be heard? How much damage and trauma is deemed acceptable for help?
And what about the people who don’t want to talk about it to just anyone? Is it not okay to want to talk to a professional about something, rather than having to admit it to a GP first?
What about the suicidal people who struggle in silence? What about the ones who don’t think their struggles are worth someone else’s time? What about the people who are sent home by the doctor with a prescription and a referral to someone who doesn’t care?
I wonder all of these things and more.
But most of all, I wonder when the system is going to change.
Resources for those seeking help:
Remember, your safety should always be a priority. If you are in crisis or your mental health becomes an emergency, call 000.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
If you, or someone you know needs help, don’t hesitate to use the following resources:
Headspace: 1800 650 890
Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800
MensLine Australia: 1300 789 978
QLife: 1800 184 527
If you enjoyed this article, feel free to check out more at ‘The Art of Overthinking‘.