It was a warm Saturday evening, and I had just returned from a birthday party when I received a text from my dear friend, Andrea. She told me she was in the hospital. What?!
I had texted her earlier that day to see how she was feeling because I knew she was experiencing some unpleasant side effects from an anti-depressant. Andrea deals daily with a mental illness. She responded that evening with the unfortunate news.
Apparently, the side effects went from bad to worse. Andrea’s children found her in the hallway of their home having a seizure. The oldest called 911, and she was transported by ambulance to the local hospital. The neurologist who saw Andrea ran many tests and ordered her to spend the weekend there under observation. He felt confident her seizures were actually emotional convulsions caused by something called Conversion Disorder, and he believed she would be diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. Andrea saw the psychiatrist Monday morning, and he did, in fact, diagnose her as having Bipolar Disorder.
Andrea is a single mom of two children and also on Medi-Cal, which is California’s Medicaid program serving low-income individuals, including families, seniors, persons with disabilities, children in foster care, pregnant women, and childless adults with incomes below the federal poverty level.
Before you form some preconceived notion in your head about Andrea and the fact she is on Medi-Cal, I want to you to know she is employed full-time and works hard to provide for her family. She simply can’t afford private health insurance. You may be curious as to why I am including this information, but I promise you, it is pertinent.
Andrea began struggling with mental health issues months before this. She had seen her primary care physician who put her on an anti-depressant/anti-anxiety medication and suggested counseling. While the counseling helped, the medicine did not.
Andrea began having strange side effects and felt like she was losing her mind. She tried another medication but had difficulty with it as well. She attempted to make an appointment with the county mental health department, but the wait for the next available appointment was over a month long. Andrea then inquired about a voluntary placement at an adult inpatient psychiatric facility before her symptoms worsened, but she was told Medi-Cal wouldn’t cover voluntary stays.
One night Andrea decided she had enough- she felt like she was going crazy. She asked her sister to take her to the hospital where she allowed the hospital to classify her as a “5150.” This classification authorizes a clinician to involuntarily confine a person suspected to have a mental disorder that makes them a danger to themselves and others. Because of the “5150” classification, the insurance would pay for her psychiatric treatment. Andrea spent four days in a residential treatment program where she was diagnosed as having Bipolar Disorder.
You may be wondering why, if Andrea had this diagnosis previously, she ended up at the hospital the second time. After her inpatient stay at the psychiatric facility, she was sent home and told to make an appointment with the county mental health department. It took a while to get an appointment, and when she did, it was an appointment with a psychiatric nurse practitioner. She had several appointments with this nurse who diagnosed her not as Bipolar, but as having an anxiety disorder and PTSD. Andrea never could get an appointment the county psychiatrist, only the nurse practitioner.
As time went on, she realized she was not doing well. She made phone calls to the nurse and had some medication switched. She still had difficulty ever seeing the county psychiatrist, and even getting an appointment with the nurse. She was on and off medications and never got the proper treatment she needed. That is how Andrea ended up back in the emergency room that Saturday while I was at the birthday party.
Can you imagine how frustrating this was?
When someone wants to be well, have the proper medication, and see the right doctor, but can’t? People suffering from any type of illness- mental or physical- should NOT have to go through such difficulty to get an appointment! Low-income people should have the same access to medical care as those who are using private insurance.
I believe Andrea’s story is important because she could be your sister, neighbor, co-worker, or friend. She could be the woman you sit beside in church or work out next to at the gym.
Andrea is doing well now, has a psychiatrist assigned to her, found the right balance of medications, and feels great.
Did you know that one in four adults (approximately 57.7 million Americans) experience a mental health disorder in a given year?
Look at these statistics:
- One in 17 lives with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder, and about one in 10 children live with a serious mental or emotional disorder.
- Bipolar disorder affects 5.7 million American adults, approximately 2.6 percent of the adult population per year.
- Anxiety disorders, including panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), generalized anxiety disorder and phobias, affect about 18.7 percent of adults, an estimated 40 million individuals. Anxiety disorders frequently co-occur with depression or addiction disorders.
- Fewer than one-third of adults and one-half of children with a diagnosable mental disorder receive mental health services in a given year.
- Racial and ethnic minorities are less likely to have access to mental health services and often receive a poorer quality of care.
- Seventy percent of youth in juvenile justice systems have at least one mental disorder with at least 20 percent experiencing significant functional impairment from a serious mental illness.
These are alarming!
What can we do as sisters, brothers, friends, co-workers, and neighbors?
First of all, we can be more compassionate towards those who struggle with a mental illness. We can show kindness and not offer judgment. We are not living their lives, so we are no place to judge their faith, their walk, or their day-to-day realities. Instead, we could offer care and sensitivity. We must be careful not to joke about mental health.
Second, we could act as advocates for those who have difficulty getting in to see a mental health professional. Help make phone calls, ask around for recommendations, and be persistent when trying to make appointments. We could accompany them to appointments if needed.
Third, we can educate ourselves on the realities of mental illness and those that struggle. Considering the statistics, it is very likely that someone in your life is living with a mental illness, whether it is mild or severe. Become knowledgeable, informed, and aware of the effects of mental health illnesses, so those that suffer don’t feel shame.
Andrea’s story really bothered me, and I wasn’t sure why. After pondering this and praying about the reason, I realized several things. To begin with, I have difficulty with injustice. If someone is hurting or struggling, I want to help. I know as a Christian I am called to bear another’s burdens, to encourage others, and to be kind-hearted and compassionate. I am bothered that people can’t get the right care they need.
Another difficulty I feel is that the church does a poor job of caring for one another, especially when dealing with mental health issues. It would be my heart’s desire to see those of us walking with Lord to show more grace and tenderness towards people in this situation. Christians can be quick to call a mental illness a “lack of faith” or “not enough prayer” problem. The truth of the matter is that mental illness is very real.
It would be easy for me to continue with the list of why this situation upsets me, but suffice it to say I want my heart to be soft and broken for the injustices around me.
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
What social justices issues bother you? I would love to hear.
Mental Illness: Facts & Numbers – http://namica.org/resources/mental-illness/mental-illness-facts-numbers/
Health Care in California: Painting a Picture –http://www.chcf.org/publications/2013/07/mental-health-california