In the midst of doing a Masters’s in Counselling Psychology, I was diagnosed with a critical illness called Aplastic Anemia, where my bone marrow decided to stop producing blood, and my life was turned upside down. It has been one of those experiences that many have had in regard to having everything one day, and then life hits you like a ton of bricks. The only way I could live for a year was to get blood transfusions while completing my coursework.
I am not sure how I did it except that I had pure determination and much support from family and friends. Blood is the life source and if you do not have it you will die. Seems pretty obvious, but when it usually produces without thinking. It definitely is not the first thing you are thankful for when you wake up in the morning.
However, I began a practicum and could counsel others with a new type of empathy and understanding for those who have experienced brokenness, pain, heartbreak, diagnosis, addiction, and abandonment. A therapist does not need to go through everything their clients go through, but it sure helps to have the life experience of going through something as difficult as having a critical illness and being faced with death. This experience has taught me so much about what is important in life and how thankful I need to be for the little/big things we can take for granted.
One of the things I have from having to rely so heavily on life-sustaining therapy is that it can be incredibly difficult when you want your life to go a certain way and yet things have to adjust, shift and refocus to other more important and maybe less exciting than the ideal you had in mind. I feel like this has inspired my vision to help others and reflected the incredible needs that are out there in terms of each one of us needs mental health support not only in crisis but every day.
Mental health and the need for help are a bit like the blood in our veins that we take for granted. It’s a bit like the tap of water that runs out and we realize how badly we need it. When the job fails, when the spouse walks out when the addiction gets too hard to manage when the bills cannot be paid when the diagnosis comes when the job is gone, where is the life source?
Looking at the current mental health system in Alberta in its attempt at helping individuals with a psychiatric diagnosis, it has been met with difficulty. In Canada, the economic cost of mental illnesses was estimated at 7.331 billion in 1993 (Phac-aspc.gc.ca). In 1999 3.8% of admissions to general hospitals were due to anxiety disorders, bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, mood disorders, eating disorders, and suicidal behavior. Specifically in terms of mood disorders, in 2012, 5.4% of Canadians met symptoms consistent with mood disorders and 1.5% met the criteria for Bipolar Disorder (Statcan.gc.ca).
More statistics indicated that 38% of Canadians reported having a family member with a mental health problem. Specifically in regards to individuals released from the hospital with Bipolar Disorder, 50% experience recurrence within 12 months.
This means that 50% of patients released from the hospital have had to be re-admitted within 12 months. To further indicate a lack of follow-up and the seriousness of the disorder 12 months after release from the hospital 76% of clients are rated as impaired and 52% are still symptomatic (Davidson, Blankstein, Flett, Neal, 2014). Bipolar disorders affect 2% of the world’s population and 37% of those treated relapse into depression or mania within 1 year, and 60% within 2 years (Geddes & Miklowitz, 2013).
In 2009 the direct and indirect costs of BP were estimated at about $151 billion in the USA. In the USA Bipolar Disorder has been rated as the sixth most common cause of disability (Leahy, 2007), with suicide rates 60 times higher than the general population (Leahy, 2007).
Mental Health is important for everyone and it has not been seen or recognized as a major concern as much as physical health in our world today. It seems far easier and understandable when we encounter someone with a physical problem who is taking a leave from work or needs to rest and take care of themselves than it does when someone has to take a leave for mental health reasons.
There is far more stigma attached to the concept of mental health and well-being than physical health and it is becoming an ongoing concern and detriment to society. However, it is being noticed in Canada as a major problem and a lot has been talked about recently in regard to mental health.
INSTITUTIONALIZED SERVICES and WAITLISTS
The typical struggle that seems to be flooding our hospitals, treatment centers, counseling centers, and Canadian mental health organizations is that they are failing to bridge the gap between individuals coming out of treatment for mental illness in the hospital and the transition back into community life. The reality is that many individuals are coming out of Psychiatric Wards with a new diagnosis that they and their family members have not been given the tools to understand what they are now going to deal with in the short term or even for the rest of their life.
Many individuals may need further follow-up that doesn’t have to be through a crisis line or being put on a waitlist for services, or having to set up appointments with psychiatrists who give prescriptions for medication and send people on their way. There is a problem when an individual comes out of care and they have nowhere to go except wait for the next psychiatrist appointment when in the meantime they need to learn how to function in society the best they can with an illness they know nothing about.
There’s a gap in the system between hospitalization and follow-up of individuals with mental health issues. How many individuals come in and out of hospitals numerous times over, spending millions of taxpayers’ money while still not given the tools to manage effectively in the community.
Can we expect these individuals are going to access counseling or psychiatric help on their own? The truth is that many people do not want too because there is such a stigma attached to seeking services, but truthfully it is because there are not many programs that focus on transitioning individuals from hospital to home and from home to work.
Canada has brought forth mental health initiatives and forums where they can get feedback for how we are going to tackle the issues of mental health; however, it is often a wonder how anything is really going to be put into practice. It is a mental health epidemic! What is the answer?
Using my analogy of blood for sustenance of life, what must be the “blood” of the mental health system? What I want to propose is a life-giving action plan for helping not only the individuals with a diagnosis but everyone. I would like to create a culture of awareness that everyone needs mental health and propose that we are the system. We are the culture that has failed in regard to the mental health system.
I think the problem isn’t the mental health system, but the culture that has not included the very importance of mental health in its essence. Rather than a system, I would like to create a culture of awareness and access for everyone.
What would it look like for a culture of awareness? What would it look like if mental health systems were not confined to an institution? How can we raise our children in this world with an awareness of the importance of mental health in their life, without the stigma attached to it? How can we reach those people before they jump off bridges or commit murder due to a hallucination?
HELPING THE BROKEN HEART HEAL
What would you do after you break your leg and are released from the hospital? It seems fair to say that you would rest, recuperate and heal for a number of months before you are normal again. Now its also fair to say that if you come out of the hospital, or experience something significantly traumatic or stressful, there should be some kind of recovery and recuperation time. It is a little harder with mental illness because clients often do not know exactly how to rest and recover, let alone know what they are diagnosed with. My vision is a little like that healing and recovery time before the individual can get up and run again.
I want iMentalHealth to reach anyone needing help, but I have a strong desire to prevent individuals from getting lost in the system, isolated from their families, and then self-medicating. It is time to do something different.
I want to partner with people on their mental health journey and use an online platform to provide access to services in the palm of your hand.