My parent's experience with the mental health system led me to start my own company
Finding the right mental care continues to be a challenge in this country–and that needs to change.
If you had asked me a few years ago why people don’t go to therapy, I would have pointed to stigma. In our society, the idea of being “unwell” is terrifying, and for a long time, there was no better way to alienate yourself than to say that you were in therapy.
But today, the conversation around mental health has swelled into the public forum. High-profile actors, musicians, comedians, athletes, business leaders, and even politicians are opening up for the first time about their mental health journeys. We’re starting to see that mental illness is common and, in many cases, invisible.
These stories are no doubt powerful, yet they’re incomplete. Yes, they are changing how we think about mental health, but only up to a certain point. After all, deciding that you are going to get help is just the first step.
THE IMPORTANCE OF FINDING THE RIGHT CARE
Take Kevin Love, power forward for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Last year, he courageously shared his experiences with his first panic attack and coming to terms with his anxiety. By opening up in a raw and relatable way, he showed how a person could have anxiety and still be reliable, trustworthy, and a high-performing athlete. His piece was beautiful and revealing, but when it talked about finding a therapist, he merely stated his reality: “The Cavs helped me find a therapist, and I set up an appointment.”
It’s rarely that simple. Mental health issues are unique to every individual, and not all therapists are created equal. But navigating what kind of help to ask for can be confusing, overwhelming, and can make you feel exceptionally alone.
I saw this for the first time through the eyes of my partner. She was an overworked elementary school teacher in the midst of–what we only understood much later to be–a depressive episode. Despite having fulfilling work, a loving family, and supportive friends, she found it hard to get through a day. After struggling for months, she decided to seek support. But where to start?
She didn’t know how to find a therapist. She didn’t understand what therapeutic approach or modality would work for her and, on top of that, she didn’t know how to pay for it and what role her insurance benefits would play. Because two-thirds of primary care providers in this country don’t know where to refer their patients for mental health care, it’s up to us to work with a dizzying system with a dozen provider types, hundreds of therapy types, and even more diagnoses.
My partner ended up starting with her insurance company’s website. She typed “therapist” into the search bar, took a breath, and then called the first results on the page. She left voicemail after voicemail, and when she finally got through to someone, they told her they weren’t taking new patients. At that moment, it felt like help was fundamentally out of her reach and that she’d never get better.
When she finally found a therapist who had availability, she discovered that it just felt off. She didn’t know what type of therapy she was looking for, but she knew this wasn’t it. Their time together felt forced and unproductive. She kept returning, week after week because she thought it was her only option. After six months of no progress, she stopped. She was back to where she started.