If you’re going to commit suicide, don’t do it on a Friday because you’ll have to wait until Monday for any help. That’s what it was like the last time my brother went into a serious bout of manic depression. We got him into the psychiatric ward in the hospital before the weekend and the caseworkers told him he might be better off going home for the weekend because they don’t have any groups, doctors or counselors in on the weekends. Who knew depression and suicide was a Monday to Friday, 9 to 5?
This isn’t the first time the mental health system failed my brother. My brother has suffered from “manic depression” since he was a young teenager. At the age of 15, he tried to take his own life and by mere chance, we were able to save him before it was too late. After being admitted into the hospital for a couple of days to make sure he was okay, he was released. Our life, as a family, has been in turmoil ever since that cold December night, as we desperately fight to get him the right treatment.
The Mental Health System’s Guinea Pig
Fast forward 15 years and my brother still hasn’t received any effective or long-term help. In fact, the mental health system has yet to perform an actual test on his brain to figure out what is really going on. I don’t even know if he’s even been given a real mental health assessment.
Instead, the doctors take a list of his symptoms and prescribe him a new anti-depressant medication and wait to see if it works. When the medications fail, they prescribe him something new and wait to see what happens. When those don’t work, they do it again and again and again. It’s like he’s a part of a test lab, being poked and probed without any actual help. My brother is their guinea pig.
Now, I completely understand mental health is significantly more difficult to treat than other diseases and illness. Finding the right medication and dosage is trial and error but the problem doesn’t start and end with the medication.
There’s a lack of consistency
Just last year, a psychiatrist said that he doesn’t even think my brother has depression. In fact, he thinks it’s an entirely different mental illness altogether. How come we are only being told this 15 years after the first incident, with various appointments and incidents being on record each year? When he got out of the hospital last year and tried to contact a doctor he had work with previously, the office told him the doctor no longer worked there and they don’t have their contact information. “Sorry,” they said. To someone contemplating taking their own life, these are not the words they need to hear. It’s like saying, “All the work you’ve put in is useless and you’ll have to start all over form the bottom again. Good luck!” We ended up in the hospital again around this time, where my brother was admitted into the psychiatric facility. BIG MISTAKE.
The hospital’s mental health ward failed him
In fact, my brother going to the hospital when he was ready to take his own life was the worst thing that could have happened. It was his last option. He could be ready to take his own life but he knew he always had the hospital…. or so he thought.
Instead of being placed in a helpful, positive and encouraging atmosphere, he was placed in a room with drug addicts, patients who screamed at all hours of the night and people who truly weren’t all there anymore. The help he was provided? He was to shared a living space with these individuals and would be “checked on” once in a while. There was no structure; no strategy, no help. In fact, he was told that the groups, doctors and activities don’t happen on the weekends and to come back on Monday.
Here was a man ready to take his own life and his last resort (the hospital) is telling him to come back on Monday. When I went to pick him up, I can vouch that the situation he was in at this particular hospital was enough to make anyone want to take their own life. It was disturbing. Mental illness isn’t a 9 to 5 and certain mental illnesses shouldn’t mingle with others in such facilities as it can worsen the problem. There needs to be a separate section for people who need to remain living in a psych ward and another section for people who are there for immediate help for things such as depression, anxiety, bi-polar, etc.
The anti-depressant disaster
Earlier this year, my brother was prescribed another anti-depressant medication (for what-seems-like the 50th time). The good news is that this one worked like a charm and my brother finally started enjoying life again but there was one problem. The pills had a potential side effect – a deadly rash. As luck would have it, my brother started developing the rash and had to be taken off the medications immediately; the only medication that has worked.
Therapists who run out of ideas
Fast forward to his therapist appointments and he’s being told that he should try seeing a new therapist because his has run out of ideas to help him. Translate that into normal terms and the therapist is basically telling him, “I can’t help you. Everything I know isn’t working. Sorry, bud. Good luck.” I don’t feel like this is the therapists fault. Instead, I feel like the entire mental health system is to blame. If there was more mental health awareness, funding, research, etc. therapists wouldn’t run out of ideas to help someone contemplating suicide. It’s like telling a cancer patient, “Well, you can do chemo but it won’t work, so you might as well just die now.” It’s horrible.
(ALL THE MORE REASON TO DONATE AND GET INVOLVED!)
Doctors contradicting one another
This isn’t the first time it’s happened either. My brother has been tossed around from doctor to doctor, all of which provide contradicting information. One doctor tells him he has manic depression, the other says he doesn’t have depression at all. Another doctor puts him on two medications and the next doctor tells him these two medications should never be prescribed together. That’s also not to mention that the doctors he sees on a regular basis don’t share notes or pass his files onto any new doctors he sees. So, he has to dig up the past and open the wounds over and over and over again. After 15 years of suffering, one would think they’d know what mental illness he’s dealing with by now. But remember, they have yet to even conduct any testing.
Telling patients they’re out of options
Then, today happened. My brother’s been told that he’s out of options for medications. The only thing left for him to do is electroshock therapy, where they literally electrocute you. They won’t do tests on his brain to see if something is going on up there but they’ll electrocute him.
As an anxiety sufferer, I couldn’t imagine trying all these different medications, therapies and doctors, only to have them tell me I’m out of options. Death would seem like the only thing left to do.
**Update** After being told he’s tried all medications by one doctor, turns out there are still some other ones he can try. Again, this slight mistake could have been fatal for someone suffering from severe depression.
There’s too much waiting
My brother has been on a waiting list to get a new psychiatrist. He’s still waiting.
He’s also been on a waiting list for a new type of therapy. He’s still waiting.
**Update** Turns out, the doctor forgot to put him on the waiting list. So, nine months later, he’s finally been put on.
My brother wanted to get into a mental health facility. It would cost approximately $50,000 for three months. The free beds are limited to urgent patients. He has to wait because there’s only one of these facilities. If mental health is such a huge problem (which it is) why is there only one major facility that can handle such severe cases?
What is an urgent patient? Isn’t someone having difficulties living for 15 years urgent? My brother has worked so hard to hang on. He’s waited. He’s waited for another moment, another chance, another medication, another doctor, another therapy session, another solution… Waiting, waiting, waiting.
But death isn’t something that waits. Patients with serious, possibly fatal mental illnesses should not have to wait. Waiting is what will put the last nail in their coffin.
It’s like telling them to just wait and continue to feel the way they do until they get worse. By that time, maybe, and just maybe, they’ll be able to get help.
**Update: After arriving at a (different) hospital last night under crisis with notes from our family doctor, my brother was prescribed new medications and released. Again, no tests, no help. Just a prescription and a ‘Good Luck’. **
The system has failed their very own guinea pig.
I must say, my brother has seen some excellent doctors and I can’t say that everyone involved has failed him. However, the system as a whole certainly has. There needs to be some changes done to the mental health system and the way in which it handles different illnesses. There needs to be more funds allotted to mental health facilities, more research on illnesses and medications, and more help – yes, even on the weekends.
Telling someone who is suffering with depression that they’ve run out of options is like writing their death certificate.
Having their own therapist run out of ideas to help them is like picking out their casket.
Prescribing medications after medications, never knowing what the outcome will be is a death sentence.
Can you imagine living and feeling so dark that you want to take your own life? You keep hanging on waiting for something to make it better. But the medications always fail you and now you’re out of options? Put this on repeat and that’s my brother’s life.
The mental health system keeps failing him as we desperately try to keep him alive.
My brother doesn’t want to die.
He just wants help.
We need a system that provides that.
5 Ways to Help the Mental Health System
- Donate to Canadian Mental Health Association
- Raise awareness by opening up conversations #BellLetsTalk
- Get involved with community events that are raising funds and awareness for mental health
- Host an event of your own to raise awareness and funds for mental health