I want to start by saying that I think the Canada’s healthcare system is a pretty good one, for the most part. However, my experience with depression and anxiety has made me lose a little bit of faith in this system. I was crying out for help, but I didn’t get it. This post is a chance for me to share what I went through in hopes that just maybe it can help to make a change.
I was diagnosed with depression when I was 14. I don’t really remember a time where I was happy, but I thought that was normal until I took middle school health classes. In those classes, we learned about mental illnesses. That’s when I started to think that maybe something was wrong. After learning about some of these illnesses, my friend told me that she had bipolar. This age is also when I started to self-harm by cutting.
In August, right before starting high school, I was lying in bed crying. I wasn’t crying about anything in particular. I was just miserable, and I didn’t know why. Lying there, I decided that I was fed up with this. I was going to something about this. This was around the time where the Bell Kid’s Help Phone ads where everywhere. I remembered seeing the number on one of the cereal boxes that we had in our kitchen, so I went downstairs and called them. The number was temporarily unavailable. I was determined to get help, so I went to the phone book and found a Youth Help Line for the area. I called the number.
After talking to the woman on the phone, my mom walked into the living room where I had been talking. I guess I had woken her up. I was crying, so she asked what was wrong. I told her everything, and I said that I wanted to make a doctor’s appointment to address my issues. She hugged me, and told me that she would make the appointment so I wouldn’t have to worry about it.
When I met with my doctor, he was hesitant to put me on anti-depressants because I was so young, but he prescribed me Cipralex. I hated Cipralex. I didn’t even notice whether or not my mood was improving or worsening because I was so distracted by the terrible headaches I was getting. At the time, I had never had a hangover. Now that I’ve had one, I can tell you that the headache that comes with a hangover was nothing compared to these headaches. These headaches were so bad that I would start to cry because the pain was so bad, but the crying made the headaches worse.
When I told my doctor about the headaches I was having, he told me that was a normal side effect and that I should just keep taking the pills. I told him that I couldn’t. That is when I started my very long journey to find the right medication. Finding the right antidepressant can be a difficult journey. The meds take a few weeks to start working, so you have to wait to see if they work for you. Then, if they don’t, you spend a few weeks on another medication. As you’ve probably figured out, it can take a long time to find the right one. Eventually, I found Cymbalta. Cymbalta wasn’t perfect, but it had worked better than any other medication I had been on. Plus, my doctor had warned me that we were running out of options for medication, so I went with it.
I was also starting therapy, but not for the first time. I saw my first therapist when I was 8 years old, but I lived in France at the time. I didn’t speak French well enough to see a therapist on my own, so my mom came to translate. I was seeing my second therapist, this time in English, when I was 9. Our family’s insurance only covered 10 therapy sessions a year. So, basically, I could see a therapist for a while every year, but not continuously. This meant that I was in and out of therapy quite a bit, but I could never go long enough to really make a difference in my mental health.
Meanwhile, I started to have panic attacks in grade 9, when I was 15. At this point, they didn’t happen that often, so it wasn’t that big of a deal. They started to get a lot worse and happened more frequently in grade 12, then even worse and even more frequent in university. You can read more about my panic attacks here, if you feel so inclined. It wasn’t until university that I was given medication for my anxiety. I was prescribed Lorazepam, or Ativan, to take as needed.
I was very hopeful that university would be the place I finally got help because Student Counselling Services was paid for in your tuition, which meant that I could go to therapy for more than ten sessions. I was also looking forward to possibly getting better healthcare with Student Health Services, which was also covered in my tuition. I hadn’t really liked either of my family doctors from the past very much. My doctors never met with me about my medications, and they didn’t really ask me about how the meds were working. They just prescribed away. Unfortunately, the university services disappointed me.
My journey with Student Health Services started at the hospital. I had been sitting on the floor in my room with all the pills I had in my room in front of me and a bottle gin. I was planning on swallowing all the pills and chugging the gin afterwards. I wanted to die, but I kind of didn’t. I really just wanted to escape from my depression and anxiety. Instead, I went to the hospital. I told them that I was afraid that if I didn’t get the help I needed, that I would end my life. They sent me home, but they faxed Student Health Services and Student Counselling Services to make sure that I would have appointments with them.
Since Student Health Services was so busy, and it took so long to get an appointment with a doctor, I had my appointment with an intern who was only at the school for a few weeks. She was amazing. She wanted to know exactly what was going on with me to make sure that she gave me the right kind of treatment. She didn’t just say, “Oh, your depressed,” and pick up her prescription pad. She had scheduled me for a half-hour appointment right before her lunch break. She told me that if the appointment carried on into her lunch, that was fine. She also scheduled me for a follow-up appointment the week after to check up on me. But then her internship ended, and I felt lost in the crowd again.
When I went to Student Counselling services, I was set up to meet with a counsellor every other week. However, my appointments were always cancelled, or pushed back a week or two. In a three month period, I had met with a counsellor twice. After this, my mom took it upon herself to pay $90 and hour for me to see a therapist outside of the school once a week. This therapist was actually very helpful. I was starting to feel less alone, and I was recognizing that I had been emotionally abused. I was starting to see that I was worth a lot more than I thought I was. Although my self-esteem was improving, my mood was not.
At this point, I had given up. And that’s when I tried to kill myself. It’s also when I started to get help.
Before explaining what I went through after I made my suicide attempt, I just want to say one thing. The lack of treatment I received was most definitely one of the major reasons that I attempted suicide, but it wasn’t the only one. There was a lot more going on.
After spending a few days in the ICU of the general hospital, I was checked into a full-lockdown unit in the psychiatric hospital across the street. This unit was terrifying. The blinds on my window were behind bulletproof glass. You had to get one of the nurses to open them for you, but mine were broken. I didn’t see sunlight for four days. But I did see a psychiatrist. I was informed that Cipralex and Ativan should not be prescribed to anyone under 24 because they can cause suicidal thoughts in people under that age. I was put on Prozac for depression, Trazodone for sleeping, and Seroquel as needed for anxiety. I also learned that the panic attacks I was experiencing were due to a panic disorder.
The psychiatric hospital was great, and I received wonderful treatment. I was lucky. I was in one of the best psychiatric hospitals in the country, by coincidence. I just happened to have been in the city that had this hospital.
There were two things that bothered me about this. The first was that I had to do such an extreme thing to get the treatment I needed. I had told healthcare professionals how serious my illness was getting, but I hadn’t gotten much help until I had tried to end my life. Is that the way it is with everything? What about the people who succeeded in committing suicide? Had they had a chance to get the right treatment? I was especially bothered by this because the nurse who admitted me didn’t believe me that I had asked for help.
“Did you ask specifically?” she asked.
“Yes. I told the people at the hospital that I was worried I would kill myself if I didn’t get help.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes.” I was beginning to feel like I had absolutely no credibility as a mental patient.
The second thing that bothered me was how lucky I had been to have gotten into this hospital. I had heard stories from other patients about how terrible other places were. The hospital I was in was a private hospital. If it was the hospital in your area and your insurance didn’t cover it, OHIP would pay for it. However, if you weren’t from the area and couldn’t afford to stay there, you would end up somewhere a lot worse.
I sometimes wish that I could have taken a different path to where I am now, but my determinism to make a change might not be as strong. I want to make a difference. I want to change the way mental health is seen in society. I want to change how mental health is treated. This blog is my first step to try to make this change.