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.
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.
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