A necessary part of your mental health recovery will be your ability to cope with, to manage, delay. That’s true here in Ontario and likely throughout the rest of Canada. Delay is endemic throughout the health system. But it’s most acutely felt, I believe, in the mental health system, where resources are scarce and the population is widespread.
This is certainly the case in the region of Ontario where I live. Here, there is a heavily populated municipal stretch to the south and a sparsely populated and larger rural area to the north. You can easily imagine where the resources are allocated.
I knew none of this on September 3, 2014 when I was released from hospital. I’d attempted to take my own life the previous day and was now being released into the care of my parents. In exchange I gave nothing more than a promise to meet with a counselor on September 4. I had no income, no doctor, no diagnosis, no medication and no knowledge of where I’d go to get help. What I did have was my parents’ internet connection and an appointment.
Let me pause here for a second. Let me repeat myself. Think on this: someone who has just attempted suicide, who is still suicidal, is placed into the care of untrained people on the basis of a promise and nothing more. That should have given my parents and I pause. However, they were in shock, and I was deeply immersed in a depressive episode, although I didn’t know that’s what it was. The enormity of the lapse escaped us. None of us knew of the delays I would experience. How could we, we’d never been exposed to the mental health system before.
I attended the appointment. I was given two pieces of new information: the name of an agency to help, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) and a word, “depression”. Both were critical. But there was no mention of delay. I’d been left with the impression that a simple call to the CMHA would solve everything. My impression was false.
I had to apply for assistance from the CMHA, and then wait for it to be processed. I had to apply for public assistance from Ontario, and then wait for it to be processed. I applied for counselling through Family Services, and then waited for the application to be processed. I applied for group support through Community Care, and then waited for the application to be processed. I met with a family doctor, and then waited for his referral to a psychiatrist to be processed.
Remember, no-one had warned us about all of this waiting. If we’d known, I likely would’ve stayed in the hospital. But I didn’t and we were left unprepared for what followed.
I was hyper-sensitive, breaking down without apparent cause. I was irritable, short-tempered. I was unable to sleep on some days, and could sleep to excess on others. My parents did their best, but they were ill-equipped to deal with someone who was suicidal. And I was suicidal. That fact hadn’t changed. Nor had the fact that delay was a part of the process.
At each step, I wondered if I would survive the wait. There were times when I nearly didn’t.
I was fortunate, though, in three ways:
- the CMHA application had been made;
- my doctor had prescribed an anti-depressant;
- I had access to the internet
each of which was critical to my survival.
I called the CMHA on September 4 and immediately came face to face with reality. After explaining my situation, and saying where I lived, I was told it would be some six weeks or more before someone could come to meet with me. I was shocked. I was distraught. I was shaken. I knew my condition was too precarious to wait six weeks. I knew I needed something much much sooner. I broke down. I begged, explaining that I would come to them, that I would do whatever it took, but please meet me sooner. I was left with a promise that someone would call me back before the end of the day.
The wait was interminable.
To their credit, the CMHA kept their promise and called me before the end of the day. An appointment was arranged for the following week for which I was thankful. But the CMHA also did more. They established a satellite office in the northern part of the region thereby reducing delay for those in need. Moreover, once my application had been made, they called me daily to keep me apprised of its progress. This, in all frankness, helped saved my life.
Keep in mind that I was still suicidal. I was still plagued by self-loathing and suicidal ideations. I was filled with deep shame and guilt, the burden of unworthiness. What the daily call offered was a respite, a pause, a moment when these feelings and thoughts were set aside. When they arose, I could concentrate on the fact of an upcoming call, or the fact of the call just made, to help keep my baser thoughts at bay. In essence, the fact of the daily call gave me a distraction, gave me something to hang on to. I wouldn’t die today, because I want to hear that call tomorrow.
Coincident with my call to the CMHA, my parents also called their doctor to make an appointment for me. He was gracious in allowing this, and even more gracious in agreeing to take me on as a patient. Most importantly, he prescribed an anti-depressant. At last, a treatment. Even though it takes time for the medication to take effect, the mere fact of it helped to calm me.
The third factor in my survival is perhaps the most important of all – my use of the internet. I’d been given a word, “depression”, and I spent countless hours researching it. I discovered how commonplace the illness is which, given its isolating and debilitating effects on me, was a shock. The illness makes it seem as if you, and you alone, are suffering its depradations. To learn that others go through the same thing , while logically sensible, was an emotional surprise.
I learned about the symptomology of depression, developing an understanding of what I was experiencing. I learned about treatment options. I learned about questions to ask a therapist or doctor. I learned.
I learned that despite the dark hole in which I found myself, there is a path back to better health. I learned to hope.
I discovered books about depression, not just about treatment, but books by people who’d suffered as I suffered. These added to the hope that was growing. I used YouTube, finding a host of videos about depression, about treatment options, about methodologies that work to heal and why they worked.
My internet research was serving the same function as the daily call from the CMHA – distracting me. However, there is a key element that makes a huge difference. It was self-directed. My research was entirely within my control and was the first step in being invested in my own care. I was actively taking action to better my health. The actions that followed – one-on-one counselling, group support, day program involvement, and more – were enhanced by my already having made this investment.
Moreover, the research gave me a tool to use between the phone calls, and while waiting for the medication to have effect. It took me away from the darkness of my thoughts. It took away the mystery, and the fear. It gave me the means to cope with delay. Delay wasn’t fatal. It was a chance for me to learn so that my eventual therapy could be made more beneficial to me.
And so each morning, I devoured information. I distracted. I invested time and effort into my own care, readying myself for what was to follow. Delay became a chance for me to grow, to prepare myself for treatment.
I coped with delay by applying myself to learning about my illness, to informing myself about its effects and treatments. This isn’t for everyone, but it worked for me.
I also concede that the delays I faced, a month or two for CMHA assistance, nine months to a year for a psychiatrist, are small compared to the delays faced by many others. I urge you, find a way to use this time to your benefit. There are many self-help books out there that can help you help yourself: Feeling Good; Mind Over Mood; The Mindful Way Through Depression; The Mindful Way Workbook; The Upward Spiral; and many more. They can give you a glimpse into the tools used by therapists and can help you invest in your own recovery. You deserve this.
About John Dickson
A lifelong battle with Major Depressive Disorder resulted in a suicide attempt. That attempt taught me the danger of being silent about my personal struggles with mental health. I've had to learn to be more open about my struggle. I now choose to reach out with the hope that someone will be inspired and end his/her own silence. I'm a dad, a blogger and a new convert to the power of social media.