If you follow me at all on my business page, you know that I pride myself on remaining authentic. I can even be quoted several times saying that I will always share the good, the bad, and the ugly. When I wrote that, I was serious, however, I still find myself terrified to share some of the ugly. This is one of those terrifying shares. I share because if I can help just one person, then it is worth me putting myself out there. It is my prayer that this post will reach someone. Someone who needs to know they are not alone. Someone who may once be too afraid to reach out for help. And, if I am lucky, it will reach someone who has the potential to make a difference in a system so broken.
A quick google search on depression statistics brought me to the following list from The Anxiety and Depression Association of America:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder affects 6.8 million adults, or 3.1% of the U.S. population, yet only 43.2% are receiving treatment.
Panic Disorder affects 6 million adults, or 2.7% of the U.S. population.
Social Anxiety Disorder affects 15 million adults, or 6.8% of the U.S. population.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder affects 2.2 million adults, or 1.0% of the U.S. population.
PTSD affects 7.7 million adults, or 3.5% of the U.S. population.
Major Depressive Disorder affects more than 16.1 million American adults, or about 6.7%of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year and is The leading cause of disability in the U.S. for ages 15 to 44.3.
A quick calculation and this equates to 23.8 % of the U.S population experiences depression or anxiety. Even more concerning, are the following statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health:
Suicide was the tenth leading cause of death overall in the US claiming the lives of nearly 45,000 in 2016.
Suicide was the second leading cause of the death among individuals ages 10 and 34.
There were more than twice as many suicides (44,965) in the US as there were homicides (19,362) in 2016.
Reading these statistics you would think that help was easily accessible. Help should be a phone call away, right? Wrong! I know from personal experience, that I am not alone in my story. I am angry for myself. I am angry for my friends who struggled to receive help. But, beyond my own hurt and anger, I am terrified for those that will not make it, because of the broken system.
I am someone who struggles with depression and anxiety. I don’t talk about it, in fact I like to pretend it doesn’t exist. Which, makes no sense as a professional in the field and an advocate for mental health awareness. Even as a professional, or an advocate, I am still susceptible to fears of the stigma. The stigma existed in my household. I remember the first time I went on anti-depressants my father was angry with me. In his mind, antidepressants made you want to hurt yourself, and that doctor’s overprescribed these “happy pills” and that you should just “suck it up”.
For anyone that has ever told someone to “suck it up”, I hope that you never have to experience the frustration of not being able to suck it up. There is nothing worse then not knowing why you feel down, why you feel unmotivated, or why you are sitting in tears. That, my friends, is called depression. It’s a recognized, diagnosed by certain criteria, medical condition. And, I can assure you that the cure is not “to suck it up”.
I am someone who cycles through depression and anxiety. When it hits, and I recognize it, I toy with the idea of getting help. I’m stubborn, I’m in denial, I don’t have time, I don’t want to pay the copays, It will pass… and every other excuse I create. Inevitably things appear to get better… until it hits again. After spending most of last week crying, and speaking to a trusted friend, I decided to reach out for help.
I cannot put into words how difficult asking for help is. Acknowledging to yourself that there is a problem is one thing, but when you say it out loud to someone else… man, that makes it real. Ive worked in the field long enough to know how to do an in-network provider search through my insurance company. I picked up that 1,000 pound phone, dialed the first phone number, and muttered the words “I’m depressed, and want to go back on meds”. You could hear the fear in my voice, as I hesitated to let these words leave my mouth. And call after call, I was met with appointments weeks to months out. I called family doctors, general practitioners, urgent care locations, and psychiatrists. Call after call, was met with one barrier or another. Worst yet, not one single person on the other end of that 1,000 pound phone asked me any questions about the severity of the depression, or if I have any thoughts to harm myself. Now, let me make this very clear to anyone reading this, I am not suicidal, nor do I have any thoughts to hurt myself… but, no one on the other end of the phone knew that.
Several years ago, in complete desperation, a close friend of mine, who actually was having harmful thoughts, was met with the same experience, phone call after phone call of barriers and lack of help or support. In complete panic, she reached out to her OBGYN, who was able and willing to help her. Following her lead, I contacted my OBGYN and shared the same hesitation and fear on all of my previous phone calls “I am depressed and want to go on meds”. They scheduled me an appointment for two days later. I almost canceled the appointment. If you think it was difficult to mutter those words on the phone, I was literally sweating thinking about having to say them out loud, face to face, with a doctor. I texted my friend on my way to the doctor and told her I wanted to puke.
I got to the doctors and happily paid my $50 copay, thinking that I’d finally get some help, even if it was a starting point. After less than five minutes with my OBGYN, I was met with another barrier “We don’t prescribe unless you are a new mother”. She told me she would get me some resources and would be right back. In that moment, I broke out in tears. I was devastated, angry, frustrated, and overall disappointed. I wiped the tears away, not wanting anyone to see my crying. When she returned to the room, she handed me a brochure on postpartum support groups. In that moment, without any control, I broke out in tears. As she handed me a tissue, I apologized, and stated I didn’t even know why I was crying… but that I just wanted to not feel like this anymore.
That phone call was hard, that visit was even harder, and the let down of lack of help was painful. I cried my entire way back to work from the doctor’s appointment. I knew how hard it was to take those steps, and I know how easy it is to say “well, I tried” and just wait for this to pass… until the next cycle happens. My heart hurts for me, but my heart aches for the 45,000 people who took their lives in 2016. How many of them made that difficult phone call, just to be turned away.
Our system is broken. We, as the mental health field, are not doing our due diligence to properly screen people. There needs to be more availability of provider’s able to see first time patients. We need to be able to capitalize on the moment someone needs help. I know I am not alone in that moment, that fleeting moment, where you are willing to face your fears and reach out. That moment passes, and we need to be prepared to capture people in that moment. Medical provider’s need to be educated and willing to intervene, as a temporary resource, until the proper referrals can be made.
Less than half of the people experiencing depression are receiving treatment. How many of those are because treatment isn’t available. I am a mental health provider, who knows how to navigate the system, a broken system. What about the thousands of people who don’t know how to navigate? This shouldn’t be so difficult. We need to do better.