The Broken Mental Health System
“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional” ~ Unknown
Mental Health: something that millions are not only advocating for it but also standing up for the cause in their own creative and optimistic ways that helps contribute to breaking the stigma of mental health. But after viewing an article on the all the logical thinking attached to Cheryl Bradshaw’s theory on why fighting the stigma won’t be enough, I learned why the logic fits perfectly and is able to use that gained knowledge to find other ways to not only fight the stigma and reduce it in our society. Read more to find out in the link below.
Demand is exceeding resources across the board.
Honestly, I would tell mental health advocates at this point to just stop trying to raise awareness and reduce stigma right now, which goes against everything I have ever stood for and everything I have ever worked for. It breaks my heart, but here is why.
I have spent my entire counseling career arguing and advocating for mental health services. I’ve focused on reducing stigma and championing messages like, “Anyone who needs support should get support,” and “It’s OK to talk about mental health and go to counseling.” I have spent countless nights and weekends working for free, planning events and volunteering my time championing this message. I have rallied, I have cheered, I’ve made posters and I have planned and run events all around the topic of reducing stigma.
I have worked hundreds of hours in one-on-one counseling sessions to help people realize that their problems aren’t “too small” for them to come in to counseling. If it feels big enough to them, then it is that big, period. No questions, no guilt, no shame about it. People’s problems are not to be compared or judged. If it is impacting your life, then you have every right as the next person to seek support.
I have based my entire shift from a teaching career to a counseling career on the basis that we need to be proactive about youth mental health. We shouldn’t wait until people are “sick enough,” are in crisis or are having suicidal thoughts before they get the care they need.
We should be focusing on proactive mental health strategies, skills and talk therapy. Doing “damage control” counseling and keeping people out of hospital beds isn’t the right answer and it doesn’t work long-term. We need proactive services and we need immediate support available for people before things get “that bad.”
I, and most other counselors and mental health workers, have worked more overtime than we will ever be paid back for. We have worked faster and harder than we probably should for our own personal and mental health. There are more lunches that we have given up than we probably care to remember.
We do all of this because this job and these people we help mean a lot to us. And because people need the service, deserve the service, and they certainly aren’t getting it anywhere else, so we show up and go above and beyond as much as we can before burning ourselves out. Luckily, a lot of the time, I really have felt like I’m actually helping and making a difference.
Yet, it’s falling apart. Everything I have fought for, advocated for and have been working to support is completely and utterly falling apart. The systems are breaking, and no one is doing anything meaningful about it. And certainly not fast enough.
Every single mental health service is oversubscribed and underfunded. Every single person seeking help, whether they are what is deemed a “high priority” or not, is waiting an absurd amount of time to get some kind of relief.
And really, the term “high priority” is a problem all by itself. What does that even mean? We see tears and breakdowns as high priority. We see suicidal thoughts and attempts as high priority. And they are. But let’s also consider that a huge proportion of people who die by suicide do not show these signs.
They are quietly struggling. They already feel they aren’t worthy of getting help or asking for help, and they are constantly feeling like they don’t want to “burden people.”
They aren’t going to show up in this triage system. They might even be too intimidated to try to begin navigating it. These are the people who aren’t going to knock down our doors for help.
They will be the ones who disappear away from the broken system, and we will lose more lives. Did you read that? We will lose more lives. This isn’t a “we might.” This is a “we will.” And across universities and colleges, we already have.
How is a counselor supposed to look a student in the eye and say, “You’re not ‘bad enough’ for me to see here in counseling?” How do we get through the feelings of insinuating to students that their problems and their concerns “aren’t important enough” for regular counseling just because our system says so?
Many of these students may not be at risk of dying or hurting themselves – but they are still in need of help, of support and of care. And we are having to cut proactive care services, across the board. We are having to wait until people are “that bad” before they get weekly, or even bi-weekly appointments. The system, across the board, is functioning in a backwards, damage-control fashion.
So I sit here, after hours, at work, again. Tired and miserable, crying over my keyboard as I type this because I’m now part of the problem. I’m part of the reason that students hold rallies and go to the press about the rising mental health issues on campus and the lack of services.
I will be the person they tell their next therapist about (the one who actually gets to help them because they have the time to do so), about how bad or disappointing their first counseling experience was because they couldn’t get in to actually see someone.
They will talk about how they felt dismissed, and how their needs weren’t met, and they didn’t feel important enough. I will be the person who weighs on their hearts with disappointment as they struggle in silence because the one person they reached out to tell their story to couldn’t do enough to help them because the system is broken.
I’ve become the person I never wanted to be in the mental health system, and it’s not my fault. It’s not who I am, and there’s nothing I can do about it.
So here is my call to each one of you reading this. Reducing stigma is only part of the message we need to focus on. Rallying people together to support stigma reduction is only half of the battle. It is only part of the work that needs to be done.
If all we ask our hardest working mental health advocates and supporters to do is reduce stigma, then we’re going to end up increasing stigma at the end of the road. Why will this happen? Because we are going to get people energized and finally ready to go to counseling. Then, they are going to take the difficult but important step to go out and to tell someone their story.
Then, right about at that moment, they are going to be monumentally disappointed with the services. They will be disillusioned, and they will be hurt. What do people do who feel disillusioned, disappointed and hurt do? They turn away from or they rail against the thing that hurt them. Right now, the very thing that has hurt them is counseling. This is the exact counterpoint to the messaging we want to achieve around reducing stigma. We are trying to save lives, not make them worse.
If people come to seek support and are turned away, if they have to wait, if they aren’t helped or if they can’t actually get connected to someone with whom they are a good fit, then they are going to continue to struggle. They now have the extra burden to navigate one of the most complex health systems that currently exists, on top of everything else they already have on their plate.
For those who we had to convince that it was a good idea to come in to counseling? They are going to feel like, “I knew it. I knew counseling wasn’t going to help me at all.” Right now, they probably wouldn’t be wrong. They then might tell their friends, and then, all of this effort to reduce stigma is going to end up hurtling back toward us with a whole host of hurt, disillusioned and disappointed people.
People who believed us when we told them they could and should talk about their mental health. People who sought out support and were let down. It could keep them from trying again when they really need it. It could keep them from telling a friend to get support if they really need it, and more people are going to struggle.
If we are going to reduce stigma, I mean really, really, successfully reduce stigma around mental health, then we need champions of the service. We will only have champions of the service if people have a good experience. Let me tell you, right now, that often isn’t the case.
People coming through our offices are not going to be champions of the service. Not within these restraints. I am booking appointments in for students four to five weeks away during peak times (midterms, final projects, and exams). That’s a lifetime for a student, and there’s nothing I can do about it. We offer walk-in services to try to compensate, and it helps – but it’s not enough.
So mental health advocates, please, please, add this to your message: We need more service and we need more funding. Please, don’t just go out and tell people, “It’s OK to talk about mental health and to go to counseling.” That’s simply not enough. We need a service on the other side of this message that can actually serve people when they do come to talk about mental health. We need somewhere for them to go once we open up their hearts and their minds that it’s OK to talk about mental health.
We need you to go out there and demand change in the system. We need you to petition the government that we need funding. We need you to go out there and ask that insurance companies and benefit programs provide real and meaningful mental health coverage, which would require a lot more than what is currently covered by these programs. $500 at 80 percent coverage for only certain designations doesn’t cover people’s needs.
We need services, not just stigma reduction. Because right now, nobody is winning. Not the people who we are trying to get help, and not us, the therapists, who do this job. Because we care, and we want to help people, but we are so limited with what we can do.
So please, help us. We want to do better. We just can’t do it in this system. We need your voice. We need the ability to provide real care and we can’t. Please help.
- Depression, anxiety and suicide on the rise at Canadian universities
- Crisis on Campus: the Untold Story of Student Suicides
- The mental health crisis on campus
- You can contact Good2Talk, a free, confidential and anonymous helpline for Ontario’s post-secondary students at 1–866–925–5454.
- If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
- If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1–800–273–8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741–741.
I’ve been staring at the world, waiting. I’ve been looking for a change lately. All the trouble and all the pain we’re facing. Someone gotta be the hope and someone gotta be the love.
Too much light to be livin’ in the dark. Where are we going? We ain’t getting very far. Why waste time? We only got one life.
And don’t you know it starts today?
Face it. One chance, we gotta take it. Stand together and change it. We can make this world bright. Turn on all the lights.
We can be the change!
And don’t you know it starts today?. And baby, no, it’s not too late (oh no, it’s not too late).
It begins with you and I (you and I).
So go and let your heart burn bright. And watch it catch like a wild fire. I believe in you and I (you and I). Together we can be the change.
Regardless of anyone’s beliefs, we have to try to step out of our comfort zone and all else to do the right thing for everyone else because they all deserve that.
“Sometimes your vision won’t make sense to people because it’s too big for small minds. Keep it to yourself and make it happen.” ~ Unknown
- Advocating for mental health
- Stigma & discrimination
- Passion and thrive for staying up for what I believe in
- Educational sources both online and out in the real world: library
- Life experiences and lessons
- Support: groups, support system
- Invisible illness epidemic?
- Therapy: accesss
- Self care necessities
“Freedom comes when you stop caring about what others think of you.” ~ Unknown
Every kid says mean things to their parents.
You can’t be afraid to speak up, we all mess up even. I get it, we’re all the same. Every foster kid think we’re not allowed to say what we need or to stand up for ourselves. But we have to.
(3 min 15 sec left) “Daughters”
We can’t be afraid to speak up, stand up for ourselves when things don’t go the right way. We need to speak up if we want to see better change in the world and in our lives.
My Life Goal
Watching season 3 of “The Fosters” seeing Sophie with personality disorder, Chloe (Rita’s daughter) with bipolar Axis 1 disorder (also…
9 minutes ~ 4 minutes – “Lucky”
“When your lucky, it is your job to give something back. And when you see something wrong, to stand up and to say so. I’m not gonna apologize for standing up. Somebody has to.” – Callie
Don’t go blowing something up that could be great just because you’re scared. – Rita
Unfortunately, justice is not always served in this world. – that doesn’t mean nothing can be done about this. About justice being served in our world. Nothing is impossible and yeah: I get things are bad. But what are we doing to fix it? Quoted by Tomorrowland.
We can’t risk making things harder for ourselves. – so what. That shouldn’t be a good enough reason to not share our stories. Our stories is one way to inspire the world of great things that come from the negative and bad stories. No matter what risks it involves in taking or what someone could lose, tell your story. It will be worth it and you won’t lose anything, except for gaining so much more than you may even think.
“Parents don’t love you more because you’re biologically theirs. I mean, your moms – they don’t love you because your easy to deal with or because you keep your mouth shut. They love you because you’re you.” – Rita
I just always expect you to do the right thing because you just – you always do.
You’ve always been so warm and welcoming to all the kids that we’ve brought in this house, it just never occurred to me that you might not actually be okay.
I think we’re all capable of doing things that we never thought we’d do. – that doesn’t mean that we can’t prevent the things that we don’t think we’d be capable of. Nothing is impossible and never say never. It’s better to try than to never try at all.
“I wanted to take this opportunity to tell my story. So my little brother and I have been in seven different foster homes. And in one home, I was raped by an older foster brother, Liam Olmstead. And then there was this other home and we had his foster dad – Jim Pearson. And one day he was beating my little brother so bad, I had to take a baseball bat to his car to get him to stop. Nothing happened to him. I went to juvie. After that, I ended up in a safe, loving foster home. And my foster moms adopted my little brother, but the judges wouldn’t allow them to adopt me. And the same judge, Judge Jeffrey Ringer, continues to block my adoption without considering what I want. And that is what is wrong with the system.” – Callie
“We foster kids have no control of our own lives and it’s our time to speak up and we start calling people out by name. That is the only way that things will change. And we cannot be afraid. And that is why I’m telling my story and I really hope that you’ll tell yours.” – Callie
Judge Jeffrey Ringer: You said I was making these decisions about your life without any consideration of what you wanted.
Callie: Because that’s how it felt. The system is broken, sir, badly. And the only people who really understand just how bad are the ones without any say, without my voice. Somebody has got to speak up.
Judge Jeffrey Ringer: And that someone is going to be you, is it?
Callie: Yes. I’m one of the lucky ones. You know, I …found an amazing family, and I’m finally safe and loved, like, really, truly loved. And one of the things I’ve learned from my moms, from watching the way they’ve lived their lives, is that when your lucky, it is your job to give something back. And when you see something wrong, to stand up and to say so. So, I’m really sorry if I offended you. It was not my intention. I’m not gonna apologize for standing up. Somebody has to.
Judge Jeffrey Ringer: Well I wish it weren’t the case…but there’s a lot of truth in what your saying. It’s not secret the system is failing a lot of kids, and that someone needs to do something about it. I’m proud of you for being that person.
Love can drown every bad day.
It’s not where you come from, it’s where you belong/Nothing I would trade, I wouldn’t have it any other way. – Keri Kimmel
So we should’n’t just be doing all we can to break the stigma around mental health, we also have to find healthy and positive ways to help fix the broken mental health system.
“Don’t live in dissatisfaction, leave for, and live in satisfaction” ~ Ernest Agyemang Yeboah