Access to Mental Health Services: A Chronic Illness Patient's Perspective
Mental health struggles are becoming more normalized and accepted in the collective awareness. However, there is still a long way to go.
COVID-19 pandemic restrictions and lockdowns certainly brought mental illness into the public sphere. It also brought mental illness into many lives it had never touched before.
The impact of COVID on stigma and mental health
Before COVID, things in that regard were very different. Although conversations were happening around the topic, there was still a lot of inherent stigma in seeking help or outing yourself as having experience with mental illness, especially among working and professional circles.
Then the pandemic began, and the glaring lack of mental health services became apparent to those seeking them.
In many places, the pandemic is something many people gladly put behind them. It’s rare to see someone donning a mask where I am.
However, it doesn’t seem like the problems that became exposed during the pandemic were being addressed any more than before. At least, it doesn’t seem to me.
The pandemic coincided with my development of a specific extrahepatic manifestation, a vascular, autoimmune disease called cryoglobulinemia. Apart from the horrific physical cost to my body and rapid disease progression, the toll my illness, coupled with several major life events, took on my mental health was huge.
I can say with complete certainty that I have never had so many life-altering events happen in such a short period. More of these massive events occurred in those three years than in all my 25 before that.
Access to healthcare and financial struggles during the pandemic
As a neurodivergent person who has lived through addiction, domestic violence, and hepatitis C is saying a lot.
The main difference between my experience with mental health pre-pandemic and during was the ability to access services.
I lost my access to private health coverage during the pandemic. I learned quickly that when you have an autoimmune diagnosis, that can get expensive. I was unprepared for the financial impact of my illness.
I feel naive saying this now, but I did not think this happened where I live, in Canada. Everyone and their granddad know about the crazy American medical system and the obscene charges people receive.
I honestly did not think we had comparable systems at all until I was thousands in debt from medical expenses and still covered under universal healthcare. Mental health services, though I desperately needed and wanted them, had to come second to priority medical care.
Having to compromise like that left a bad taste in my mouth. The bitterness was made worse by the feeling that the medical care I received around my cryoglobulinemia was substandard in the first place.
The importance of access to mental health resources
I have since learned that many other folks with rare illnesses feel that they also don’t receive adequate medical care. Luckily I found some free alternatives to professional treatment to help with my mental health struggles online.
However, I do feel had I been able to access proper professional support then that my recovery could have happened more quickly. Places like this website were a lifesaver for me during those worst days when I had no options other than what I could access for free online.
I hope that as conversations about mental health issues and the intersections with chronic health, substance misuse, and other health issues become the norm, access to services improves. I don’t know if that is a likely event on the horizon, but I know giving up hope is just as silly.
There was once a time that I would have laughed in your face if you told me I would one day be cured of hep C. I would have done the same if someone had told me last year that next year this time, I’d finally be in remission from cryo.
Life changes fast; sometimes, I can only hold on with white knuckles and wait for the ride to smooth out. However, there are resources available if you or someone you know is struggling with mental health. Visit https://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/tools-resources/adults/index.htm for a list of available resources and information.
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