Last year, as I was looking for internships, I decided I wanted to work for a company that had some personal significance in my life. I had two passions: mental health and eating Chipotle. Since I didn’t want to ruin my love for delicious burritos, I decided to pursue a career in helping to change the landscape of current mental health services. This is when I met the wonderful staff at Mental Health America of Greater Indianapolis, started my internship, and never left.
As a Director at MHA Indy I know that the mental health system in Indiana is… crazy. There are more cracks and flaws in the system than there are strengths. We push for change in the community through education and awareness, we provide resources to those in need of immediate intervention, and we offer guardianship for those who have no one to care for them. I am very much immersed in the mental health field and I hear story after story of the failures of our system. However, these failures didn’t hit home until I saw the devastating look on my mother’s face as she asked me, “so I’m crazy enough to feel horrible, but not crazy enough to get help?”
Let’s back up a little. My mother has long-time struggled with mental unrest. Her life has been stricken with anxiety attacks, bouts of depression, social anxiety, etc. Since she was young, being at home in her own bed was more enjoyable than being surrounded by family and friends. However, she pushed through. She forged through life with her illness and never asked for help, until this week.
Many of us have been there, myself included, in that moment when life seems to keep going but we find ourselves stuck in a deep dark hole with no way out, metaphorically of course. We feel like we can’t participate in daily life, we cannot keep up with the world around us, and we just can’t jump high enough to escape. You wish for that climaxing moment like in a movie where the music is supposed to swell and someone swoops in to save you, pulling you into the brightness of day and you know everything will be alright.
When my mom called me on Monday morning to tell me she was ready to seek treatment for the first time in her life, after a long and hard fought battle, I was thrilled. I was nervous for her, I was excited for her, and I was all but scared. I had confidence that this was the moment the music would swell and there would finally be a light emerging. That is, before we sat at the crisis intervention unit for 5 hours only to be handed a list of referrals to other clinics that could help my mother, charged over $100, and sent home.
When we reached the sidewalk, my heart was racing. I was full of guilt for putting my mom through the painful questions with the therapist and letting her sit alone in a cold, criminal looking room only to be told that there was nothing that could be done for her. I was full of rage for the lack of concern for the fact that I told the therapist “it has taken years for her to ask for help, and I’m certain if you don’t help her today, she will never ask again.” I regretted not taking her somewhere better or nicer. I was heartbroken that this was not the turning point in my mom’s life, but another bad day to add to her already growing collection.
It wasn’t until my mom looked at me and innocently asked, “what just happened?” That I considered the way it must feel to be told, in her words, “you’re crazy, but not crazy enough to get help.” Unfortunately, this struggle was not over. I pushed my anger aside and told her as positively as possible that I was sorry this experience was so negative, but that we will find her the help she needs. That list of resources would guide us to someone who could help.
The night turned into day and the doors continued to slam in our faces. Waiting lists of weeks to months, restrictions on where patients could live, unanswered phone calls… the barriers were endless. And here I sat as the Director of Education for Mental Health America, helpless. I’ve struggled with the question of how do you get someone help when they don’t want it? How do you erase the stigma so people are comfortable reaching out? How do you get the information out to the community about resources that are available? But the one thing I wasn’t asking was – what do you do when someone wants help, but can’t find it?
While our uplifting movie moment hasn’t arrived, I haven’t given up hope. I know now, more than ever, that I chose the right path in life. I was passionate about my job before this week and angry toward the system, but now it’s personal. I would never give up fighting to help my family, and I won’t give up on yours either. Stand with me, tell your story, raise your voice… it’s time for change.