How Mental Health Advocacy Can Worsen Mental Health
Disclaimer: This article is not telling anyone to stop advocating for mental health but to approach it more carefully. This article is also not an excuse to patronize mental health advocacy.
With a rise in the mental health crisis, there’s nothing else I hate more than people saying, “Just go to therapy,” or “Take your meds,” as if it was ever that easy.
Although these phrases are often said with good intentions, more often than not, telling people to go to therapy usually means pushing them to an expensive, inaccessible, and sometimes ineffective system. It also means giving them the false hope that therapy and medications are the end-all-be-all solutions. We as a society need to stop carrying a dismissive attitude when providing mental health advice. Because sometimes, we forget that actual lives are on the line.
Let’s look at the current reality after the COVID-19 pandemic and the severity of the rising mental health crisis:
Therapy? In this economy? Good luck. According to a VeryWell Mind study with a nationally representative sample of 1,000 people who use therapy, the average spending for therapy amounts to 178 dollars per month. Despite having insurance, about 62% still have to pay out-of-pocket costs. Other expenses like gas money, child/elderly care while attending sessions, and prescription medications are additional costs. And to reiterate, that’s on a monthly basis.
Telling someone to go to therapy without knowing their ability to pay is not helpful. With inflation and stagnant wages, therapy isn’t a viable option everyone can afford. We need to include affordability and accessibility in our mental health advocacy. Let’s be honest: Why does it take 100 dollars just to talk to someone?
That reminds me of that one Twitter meme that said something like, “When you have depression, but that therapy bill starts sounding like you just had a bad day.” Mental illness? Who’s that? Depression? Never heard of her.
Some may say the counseling center is accessible and does a great job. I agree. I know people who use it, and it helps them. However, that only represents the college student population. It would be nice if therapy services were included in our taxes. But unfortunately, it’s not free since you have to pay tuition and student fees.
Long Wait Times
But even if you can afford it, long waiting lists are part of the norm. The 2022 American Psychological Association survey found that “60% of psychologists were reporting no openings for new patients, and more than 40% were carrying waiting lists of 10 or more patients.” The article continues, saying, “We have been successful in reducing stigma about mental health, but our field didn’t anticipate the effects of this success.” Because of how overran the mental health system is, most care providers are feeling burnt out. When we offer therapy as the only option, it creates more backlog for everyone involved.
In another article, the National Council for Mental Wellbeing found that the national wait time for a behavioral health clinic is 48 days. Looking at other studies from other states like Massachusetts, Ohio, and Washington, the wait time can span around 2-3 weeks to 2-3 months, indicating wait times are a national problem.
The shortage and wait times issue was also a thing even before the pandemic. That’s why there’s a buzz about making master-level students able to take on patients.
Currently, though, telling people to go to therapy often puts them in long waiting periods, and prior patients have longer wait times. If therapy is the only thing offered but isn’t available, we’re limiting their options and potentially worsening their problems.
Not Even Medications?
Even if antidepressants are an option, an academic article that looked at effect sizes instead of statistical significance, which is not a good indicator of effectiveness, found that it only helps 1 out of 9 people. Despite the purpose of antidepressants to help, there’s emerging evidence that they can cause negative side effects such as “Insomnia, fatigue, loss of appetite, psychomotor agitation, and suicidal acts.” There’s also the process of switching and stopping, where it can take time to get the appropriate medications or dosage.
The author concludes that this isn’t to say that antidepressants don’t work; they do, but only for a minority. The study also doesn’t include the cumulation effect of antidepressants, meaning the small positive increase in mood adds up over time, which can have a big impact on your day. Some also speculate that the act of taking care of your body by taking antidepressants is a placebo effect. Meaning the health benefits don’t happen if you don’t take anything.
Don’t get me wrong, therapy and anti-depressants themselves are great. They help keep people sane, which I’ve never been more grateful about. And, oh, it kinda prevents society from collapsing on itself, too so yeah. If you have the means to go to therapy and afford medications, I encourage it.
However, society must consider cases when therapy doesn’t work or isn’t accessible. Although telling people to go to therapy sounds great theoretically, the real world doesn’t allow for it to work out that way. Here are some solutions to that.
Instead of saying, “Go to therapy,” say, “Thank you for sharing that with me. Would you be interested in hearing about some mental health resources?” Or something along those lines.
This opens up the dialogue while not crossing the other person’s boundaries. It allows the person to have more options not limited to therapy or medications. It’s unfortunate, but I only recently learned about the many resources available.
Huge shout-out to my people at FirstLink. Not enough is known about the amazing work you guys do. Let’s get into the interview with Andrew Larrivee, A FirstLink Evening Supervisor, about the myriad of resources they offer.
Mr. Larrivee outlines that the 2-1-1 help center helps people by offering listening and support. If you have a problem, “we’re someone who will lend you an extra pair of ears for you to talk to.”
Firstlink helps connect people to community resources like outpatient facilities and human service centers, which don’t turn people away for their inability to pay. There are also support groups for LGBTQIA+, bereaved, neurodivergent populations, and many more. They also connect people to telehealth services or online therapy sessions that can take Medicaid. Overall, there are many more options for those who are in need.
The Care and Support Program is another FirstLink service that does weekly, biweekly, and/or monthly calls to check people’s well-being. They also send out cards to people. Regular check-ups can be very helpful if one needs it.
“Everyone is different, and so we don’t try to impose. We help people with coping skills when help or their support networks are not available. We help them generate ideas on things they could do, like self-care, exercise, and diet. Understanding mental health is complex, and there’s no one solution. It’s a collaboration with everyone. It’s our job to empower people to make the best decision for their mental health.”
Nationally, the 9-8-8 helpline is an option you can call when you have thoughts of suicide.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration number is 1-800-662-4357.
7 Cups of Tea is a free online chat program where Listeners can do a one-on-one chat with you. You can choose the topics/problems you may have, and you should get connected.
There are more resources that I don’t know about. However, Reddit has multiple compiled posts about mental health resources. Feel free to search “mental health resources Reddit.” Or call FirstLink 2-1-1 helpline for more amazing resources.
Despite destigmatizing mental health and the amazing work that’s been done, our mental health advocacy needs to be more inclusive. Search out more resources, programs, groups, etc., so you can have a long list of mental health aids not just limited to therapy. Society is becoming more and more unlivable, and it doesn’t help that the mental health infrastructure isn’t ready to support that. But when we all care and educate ourselves, nothing can stop us.