I will admit I have advantages to when it comes to accessing mental health care. I am white. English is my first language. Until recently I was upper middle class. I’m highly educated. I know my rights. I can assert on my own behalf. And most importantly I could afford private care.
When I had what was the start of what I call my meltdown, friends referred me to a psychologist. I got lucky she turned out to be brilliant. Where I was less lucky was that psychologists are not covered by public health care in Canada. That meant paying out of pocket. Fortunately I could afford to do so. I’m a minority. When it became clear that I needed more intensive treatment, ie. meds, she referred me to a colleague, effectively allowing me to que jump and see someone within 2 weeks. Normal referrals to psychiatrists in Ontario are typically months. When that psychiatrist fell ill and basically dropped all her patients, my psychologist again referred me to a wonderful psychiatrist at the top psychiatric hospital in Canada. Again no wait, no intake assessment, I was just taken on as a private patient.
That psychiatrist eventually left the hospital and the hospital tried to drop all her private patients. At first they said everyone was to go back to their family physician and start over with someone new – see earlier comments on waiting lists. This is where my ability to advocate comes in. I called client relations and had a conversation about “Duty of Care” and how they couldn’t just drop patients. So I got a list of referrals. They were laughable, ie. I needed a new psychiatrist, not GLBT counseling services. Another call to client relations and a more forceful discussion of Duty of Care, where the mention of press and a lawyer may or may not have been made – I don’t totally remember. Lo and behold 2 weeks later I had an appointment with a top psychiatrist, who is my psychiatrist to this day.
I’ve paid for other private treatment as well. For years counselors have been saying I could benefit from DBT, Getting public DBT treatment is next to impossible where I live. At my psych hospital the wait list is 2 years, and they only open the wait list a couple of times a year. So I decided enough was enough googled DBT and my city, and found a private clinic offering a DBT program. Yes it cost money, but I was in in 2 weeks, and it’s the most productive therapy I’ve done.
Mental Health Care in Canada is grossly underfunded, and public resources are stretched to the breaking point. I’ve only received excellent care, but that’s because I could afford private care in the first place and when I subsequently needed it, and because I know the rules, the system, and can advocate for myself, Many psychiatric patients don’t have the money or the skills to access the care I have. And that’s not right.
Good mental health care should not be dependent on money or class.