This year, the theme for the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Mental Health Week is #GETLOUD for mental health. Part of the campaign’s focus is highlighting the lack of adequate mental health services and the difficulty people experience in accessing the support and treatment they need.
A mental health system that is underfunded, overburdened and difficult to navigate requires anyone wanting to access services be a sophisticated self-advocate. When you are sick, being your own self-advocate can be incredibly daunting and difficult as you may not even have the capacity to look after your day-to-day needs.
With that in mind, to give you a head start, here is a Top 10 List of Mental Health System Hacks / Workarounds for those considering seeking support:
- Check out local resource guides or contact a resource specialist.
- Put your name on a wait-list for a long-term treatment program and access drop-in clinics in the interim.
- Use community resources that are specific to the origins of your mental health issue.
- Build easily accessible and affordable mental health alternatives into your mental health plan.
- Talk to a general practitioner (family doctor) if you can’t get in to see a psychiatrist.
- Identify someone to keep you accountable and provide check-ins.
- Escalate to emergency / urgent care or ask someone you trust to ensure you are safe.
- Explore resources that are made by, and for, your community.
- Speak to HR or your supervisor if you think a workplace accommodation may help you succeed at work.
- Involve an advocate.
1. Check out local resource guides or contact a resource specialist.
When considering mental health programs and services, local resource guides are the place to start to see what is out there, narrow down your choices and get information on eligibility criteria and referrals.
Speak to a resource specialist at a resource information line who can help you evaluate your needs and find resources that make sense for you.
2. Put your name on a wait-list for a long-term treatment program and access drop-in clinics in the interim.
Long term therapy is designed to address entrenched and deep rooted mental health issues, whereas short term therapy focuses on emergent concerns. Long term therapy is helpful because it allows for continuity of care and for the professional supporting you to develop a holistic treatment plan because they have a more complete picture of you and your experiences. However, long term therapy programs often have lengthy wait lists. Add your name to the wait-list for long term therapy, and while you wait access counseling appointments at drop-in clinics so that you can begin to address problems or crises that pop-up.
3. Use community resources that are specific to the origins of your mental health issue.
Mental health issues are often related to specific situations, events, or triggers in a person’s life such as sexual assault, domestic violence, addiction, loss, body dysmorphia etc. Getting access to specialized therapy (such as EMDR for individuals that have experienced trauma) can take a long time and/or be expensive. Instead, access tailored community resources that can help meet your individual needs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Sexual Assault Clinics, and Aboriginal Healing Lodges.
4. Build easily accessible and affordable mental health alternatives (like online, phone, text counseling) into your mental health plan.
Sometimes, accessing traditional mental health therapy can be a barrier to getting better (e.g., if leaving the house is difficult due to depression or social anxiety). Seek out alternatives such as distress lines, online counseling etc. as these are often free or cheaper than the traditional counterparts.
5. Talk to a general practitioner (family doctor) if you can’t get in to see a psychiatrist.
While a psychiatrist is often the best practitioner to be prescribing medication as they specialize in treating mental health through medication, you can talk to your family doctor or a walk-in doctor about mental health concerns or medication information. A doctor can also help with providing documentation to employers or academic institutions if your mental health is interfering with your work or studies.
6. Identify someone to keep you accountable and provide check-ins.
If you’re waiting for access to a mental health professional, consider identifying someone you trust to add to your support circle that will keep you accountable and provide check-ins. Setup check-in times and code words that you can text to that individual without much effort.
Text “Safe” if you are secure
Text “Support” if you need groceries, drive to medical apt etc.
Text “Help” if you need to go to emergency, police etc.
7. Escalate to emergency / urgent care or ask someone you trust to ensure you are safe.
In isolated or rural communities, mental health resources can be few and far between. If you are at risk to yourself or others, go to an emergency room / urgent care and tell them you aren’t safe. If this sounds like an unpleasant experience, you can also ask a friend or family member to secure your home / stay with you if you are concerned you may hurt yourself.
8. Explore resources that are made by, and for, your community.
While life and the experiences we have can feel isolating, there is often a community of other individuals that can relate to your lived experiences. Zines provide a perspective on issues, such as mental health / alternative medicines that may not be discussed in traditional literature, news or by mental health practitioners. They can be a useful source of unconventional knowledge and strategies for dealing with a wide range of experiences.
9. Speak to HR or your supervisor if you think a workplace accommodation may help you succeed at work.
Workplace accommodations can help ensure that you’re just as capable of succeeding at your job as others, despite your mental health. Accommodation for mental health might look like work from home arrangements, a quiet work-space, extension of deadlines etc. Speak to HR or your supervisor If you think that a workplace accommodation may help you. Keep in mind that you are NOT required to provide diagnostic information or the origin of your mental health issue. The conversation should be about what limitations you have and how they are hindering your ability to perform certain tasks.
10. Involve an advocate.
When you’re simply trying to make it through each day and barely meeting your basic needs, it can be onerous and detrimental to be your own best advocate. Communicating what is going on for you and asking for help can be emotionally draining. Consider involving someone you trust, that is in a better position, to push for what you need so you don’t exacerbate your mental health issues as you try to navigate the mental health system.
By Cheri Konsmo
Calgary Alternative Support Services