Let’s talk therapy

I don’t even know where to start. I’m tired because I’m on an SSRI which makes me feel exhausted a lot of the time. My anxiety is slightly worse tonight and I haven’t seen my therapist for nearly a fortnight.

That’s a good thing, because thanks to the efficacy of therapy I don’t need to see my counsellor weekly any more. But the decrease in sessions is also because my funding has run out and I am now paying $110 per session.

Yesterday I learnt that if I was a client of private insurer Sovereign, they would much rather I just take that SSRI than waste their money on “talk therapy”. Because, like, “A guy whose wife has just left him might be depressed and struggling to cope but it doesn’t mean he necessarily has to see a counselor”.

Firstly, the fuck? A guy who’s just separated from his wife probably needs to talk about what he’s experiencing very badly. How the shit does taking a pill win over learning coping strategies and accessing trained support in that situation?

Secondly, Sovereign have been clear that their treatment plan for clients with mental health issues like depression has formerly consisted of a diagnosis by a psychologist, and combined management with counselling and medication.

This means that their ‘just take a pill’ strategy won’t entail a proper diagnosis for everyone, or qualified support in working through the issues their medication is supposed to help them deal with. This means that GPs will likely be diagnosing mental health issues. In their standard 15 minute sessions. Merry fucking Christmas to people who have issues that take a bit longer than 15 minutes to figure out.

Let’s be very fucking clear about something. If you have mental health needs in this country, you have the following options:

  • Be a student and get a specific number of free sessions through your university.
  • Be under 25 and wait for, on average, 3 weeks for a counselling session at a youth health centre IF you happen to live somewhere with one.
  • Be so unwell you meet the criteria for one of the sickness/disability benefits (for which criteria and counselling allowances are shrinking).
  • Have a community services card and get 6 free sessions.
  • Work somewhere which funds the Employee Assistance Program and get 3 or 4 free sessions.
  • Get hospitalised for your mental health issue.
  • Pay privately, normally upwards of $100.

I call bullshit on the “1 in 5 people” statistic. I do not know a single person who hasn’t had some kind of mental health problem in their lifetime. Not one person.

The stigma surrounding mental health in this country is huge. It’s crippling. It’s fatal. Particularly for our young people.

But hey it’s okay, your friendly Prime Minister John Key just loves the youf. He has a Youth Mental Health Project which consist of fucking truancy officers, the funding equivalent of NGO cage-fighting, fluffy school programmes and E-therapy. I wish I was fucking joking.

I have OCD. I found out about 8 weeks ago when, after a trip to Hamilton (which I’m sure is a trigger for even the most benign feelings of despair), I had to make my partner pull over the car on state highway 1 so I could have my panic attack properly with a charming rural background and an audience of cows.

Something about standing in tears on the side of a main road less concerned about getting run over than I was that I would completely fucking lose my mind made me determined to get on top of “my anxiety”.

“My anxiety”, turns out, is a hereditary, chemical brain issue in which I massively mischaracterise my internal thoughts through (for me) an uncharacteristic absence of self-assuredness. I’ve had it since I was 7 years old. I will be 27 this year. That’s 20 years of living with something which scared the shit out of me, and not accessing proper help for it once.

My psychologist diagnosed me within an hour. She printed me a flow chart in which my most terrifying fears and the ways I have (incorrectly) learned to cope were represented by bubbles and arrows and bullet points. I have never been so relieved and overwhelmed in my life.

If I hadn’t been fortunate enough to meet one of the criteria above to access funding for a psychologist, if I was a Sovereign insurance client, if I had only my GP to throw a dart at my symptoms and hope she got somewhere close, I would probably still be in the dark.

I’m not sure how dark this Government is willing to let things get for some people before it will help. But it seems like you either have to be able to afford it, or get so sick you’re no longer a productive little cog before anyone gives a fuck. And I don’t know about you, but I’d like to access resources to prevent that from happening. Because turns out their fucks given are pretty minimal.

“Talk therapy” is how I felt able to get up and go to work when my OCD still felt overwhelming. The SSRI I take is minimal, and is only to help me feel stabilised while I tackle the hard shit with my psychologist. This is the preferred and most successful treatment for most anxiety disorders and depression.

I am very, very fortunate that OCD is not my natural state. It’s triggered by stress, and eases (often to the point of non-existence) once I get on top of things. This time I am getting on top of things with proper help. Help I now have to pay $110 per session for.

The thing is, I also have asthma. It flares up sometimes but is usually non-existent. I have been to see a specialist before. It was free for as long as I needed it. Because healthy lungs are apparently pretty important.

But a healthy mental state? Too hard basket. They’d rather see how long they can leave people to ‘go for a run’ before it fails miserably and they’re forced to give the bare minimum of help.

Our top insurance provider refers people to counsellors out of “the goodness of [their] hearts”. The Government thinks truancy officers will help young people feel less suicidal. I am still questioning whether I should be so open about my mental health in case it’s used against me later in life.

Our ideas about mental health in Aotearoa in 2013 are completely fucked. The stigma and the lack of support are hurting people. Actively,tangibly, hurting people. We need to grow our resources and break the barriers that stop people getting help. We need to foster understanding and openness. We need to talk about this.

I mean it. We need to talk about this. We need these services. We need MORE of these services.

There’s a thing called a blogswarm and we need one right now. We shouldn’t need a private fucking insurer to access mental health care. They can only keep othering people who use counselling as a lifeline while we’re too ashamed to talk about it.

If you have used “talk therapy”, if you feel brave enough to speak out about how mental health has affected you or someone you love, please speak up. What resources helped? What did you need more of?

I made sure my face was on this blog, even though I am really fucking nervous about this (what up, anxiety?) because I truly think we have messed up ideas about the sort of people who have used counselling and therapy as a lifeline.

If you have a blog or a Twitter or even a Facebook, please add your faces or your words to this, scary as it may be. Use the hashtag#LetsTalkTherapy and let’s make some noise.

PS – [I just want to add that I am well and truly fine so please don’t be concerned for me. I’m stroppy enough to have managed this undiagnosed for 20 years, and now thanks to amazing support I’m better than I’ve ever been in many ways. Some days are crap but for the most part I’m 100%, which is the reality of managing mental illness for many people – it’s not going anywhere but neither is my stroppiness.]

One thought on “Let’s talk therapy

  1. Hey Coley. Just reading this now and it was a brilliant read (again and, of course). Thank you for speaking out about this. I couldn’t agree more. Mental health problems have affected people I know and love greatly. The stgma is a huge thing to get past. A couple of blokes I know can deal with the pill but shun ‘talk therapy’. I on the other hand have accessed talk therapy several times in my life. It’s help me keep my family together, helped me stay sane when I was at my lowest and provided me with much need support and validation when I needed it. I’ll try to do a blg about it. Thanks again.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s