Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Sort of like a broken bone, but not really November 3, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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Look on the lower right side of my wrist to see the surgically-implanted plate, shaped like an ice scraper, and held in place by 10 screws. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2018)

WHEN I BROKE my right shoulder one summer and then a year later shattered my left wrist, I needed physical and occupational therapy. Muscles quickly weakened with my shoulder clamped immobile in a sling and my wrist secured in a splint. After months of in-person therapy and at-home exercises, I regained my strength and use of my shoulder and wrist. I felt grateful for the therapy, which was easily accessible and covered under my insurance (although I ended up paying because of my high deductibles).

I also got lots of encouragement following those bone breaks. Cards. Texts. Emails. Calls. Even some meals delivered. When you’re experiencing a health issue, it’s reassuring to feel the support of others.

Buttons photographed at the Northfield Public Library. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

But what if your health issue is a mental health issue? Do you have the same access to healthcare? Does your insurance plan offer sufficient coverage? How do friends and family respond?

A post, “Help needed—therapy information please” published a few days ago by Texas blogger Penny Wilson, and my personal interest prompted me to write on this topic. Penny is seeking information on affordable mental health therapy for her friend whose benefits are soon ending. She understands. Penny, too, faced the same problem when she needed therapy and her insurance would cover only three sessions. Three. Sessions. Penny writes, “3 sessions didn’t even begin to scratch the surface. After that, I was on my own to figure out how to pay for it.”

I’d like to think the experiences of Penny and her friend are the exception. But I don’t believe that, not for a second. First, unlike my easy access to therapy for my broken bones, accessing mental healthcare is difficult at best. At least in Minnesota. Waits are long, if psychiatrists and psychologists are even taking new patients. That often leaves individuals in a mental health crisis seeking care in an emergency room. Unless the hospital has an on-call mental health professional, this is not necessarily the best treatment option. But when you can’t access care any other way…

Whether insurance adequately covers mental health treatment and therapy seems debatable. For Penny and her friend, obviously not.

This message refers to the struggles with mental illness. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

And then there’s the topic of personal support. Mostly, it’s lacking. Although we’ve made strides in reducing the stigma of mental illness, we have a long ways to go. Ask anyone who’s experienced a mental health crisis, whether directly or indirectly as a family member, and you will likely not hear stories of tangible support. No meals delivered. No cards sent. No texts. No emails. Primarily silence. There are, of course, exceptions.

Beyond the emotional toll, a mental health crisis can devastate individuals and families financially. Yet, there are no public fundraisers. Again, this traces to the stigma, the lack of understanding, not necessarily a lack of compassion.

Mental illness, in my opinion, is not viewed on the same level as say diabetes or cancer or other debilitating diseases. I’m not taking away from anyone who has dealt with those because they are horrible and awful. But so is a serious mental illness. There are no cures, no single plans of treatment that work for everyone. A med may ease symptoms and then it doesn’t and then it’s start over with a different med. The same for therapy. Imagine the exhaustion and frustration that can set in as individuals struggle to manage anxiety, depression, bipolar and more. It’s a lot.

A mental health-themed sculpture, “Waist Deep,” once stood outside the Northfield Library. This is such a strong visual of reaching for help. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2019)

So what’s the point of this post? The point is to educate and raise awareness. The point is to reduce the stigma of mental illness. The point is to encourage you—if you know someone struggling with mental health—to reach out, acknowledge, support. Act. Support their families, too. Offer words of encouragement. Offer financial support if needed. This is their broken bone.

FYI: The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is a great resource for information and support. Click here for more information.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


18 Responses to “Sort of like a broken bone, but not really”

  1. beth Says:

    you are spot on about all of this, there is still a huge stigma about mental illness, which often stops people from talking about it or seeking help. as you pointed out, the other challenge is the insurance companies and medical field in some cases. it becomes such a challenge for someone who is struggling to find help of any duration or quality, that they often give up trying. if only people in charge would realize it would cost them so much less in the long run to help people as needed rather than doing reactive care when it becomes a huge problem, perhaps they would be willing to be proactive, instead of the reverse. the cost to people in other ways, even beside the dollar, is immeasurable.

  2. Bless you for posting this, Audrey. And thank you for the shout out. ❤ ❤ ❤

  3. NAMI is a great resource—- obviously we need to do better with mental health services.

  4. Rose Says:

    Thank-you for such a wonderful post, Audrey. I’ve witnessed tragedies due to health care not being provided for people in poverty, and how devastating it is for those who suffer multiple physical/mental/emotional illnesses. Society doesn’t seem to care. As you pointed out, there tends to be lots of love and get-well sentiments for broken bones, or ‘real medical labels’. But so many people suffer in desperate silence, with no support, more often ridiculed because they ‘can’t get it together’…

    • Rose, I appreciate your detailed comment. What you write is, unfortunately, true. I can only hope that some day everyone recognizes the “real medical label” of mental illness. I, too, have heard the seemingly well-intended words of “pull yourself out of it” (directed at individuals with mental illness) or “if he/she stays on his/her meds, they will be fine.” Really? Yes, staying on meds is vital to treat any disease. But it’s not that simple in the realm on mental health. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. You are making a difference.

  5. Ken Wedding Says:

    Thank you. I try, with my son’s permission, to be open and public about his depression. But there’s still a moment of hesitation when I say something about it to someone new. Onward!

    • Ken, the hesitation you feel reflects the stigma that exists regarding mental illness. You clearly understand mental illness given your son’s depression. But yet you think twice before sharing with someone new. That’s understandable given the societal stigma toward mental illness. I’m sure you’re wondering if that individual will understand and support or respond with something hurtful and stupid. Your hesitation is justified.

      Mental illness of one family member ripples into the lives of those who love them. I am thankful your son has your love, compassion, understanding, support and probably advocacy. That you ask for your son’s permission to share shows me the depth of your care.

      NAMI has family support groups. It can be really beneficial to be among others who “get it.”

  6. Always happy to see you highlight these issues! Really the stigma comes from all that suffer in silence too! Afraid of what people think, people giving advice when they don’t understand the basic issues surrounding these conditions.
    When was the last time someone told someone with cancer that they thought they knew better than the doctor that treat them or how they should proceed? My guess most of us wouldn’t think of giving advice in any medical situation a person faces but would ask “How can I help?” “Is there anything you need?”
    Again, the situation that we as Americans face in the cost of healthcare is more in line of a third World country than one of the richest in the World. Really!
    Let’s all work together to start helping change the narrative.
    Healthcare is total care and each of us are entitled to comprehensive and affordable healthcare, Period!

  7. Valerie Says:

    I appreciate you writing about mental health/illness, and keeping it in the forefront, as a reminder to all of us. We have a lot to learn.

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