When we think of people slipping through the cracks in the mental health system, our minds normally drift to those quiet loners who live their lives in undiagnosed anguish.
However, even diagnosed patients who have psychiatrists and adhere to their medication regimes can slip through the cracks. I know I have.
It starts with a couple conundrums.
First – the pill conundrum.
I’m just about out of pills, so I go to the pharmacy to get a refill.
My refills are out, so they have to fax my doctor for more.
I go without pills.
Second – the doctor conundrum.
To prevent a crisis you want to see your doctor. Without a crisis, they probably won’t see you.
I’ve been around this block more times than I can remember, and I assume many of you reading this have done the same.
What I’ve learned is:
1 – Get your refills early… but not too early.
I’ve been lectured at length about how irresponsible it is to wait until a day or two before you need pills to go to the pharmacy. The flipside is, I’ve also been sent home because I was requesting a refill too early.
Ordering refills a couple weeks in advance is literally not allowed – despite any financial strain you are trying to avoid.
2 – Expect delays.
All that back and forth between you, your doctor and your pharmacist creates a big game of telephone. I’ve gone without meds for days only to find the pharmacy had been faxing the wrong number.
Regardless of who dropped the ball, the patient is the only one who suffers for it.
3 – Pay attention to the calendar.
NEVER order a refill on a Thursday or Friday or before a holiday or long weekend. If for any reason your doctor isn’t available, you’re out of luck until they return. Knowing your doctor’s schedule will help greatly.
4 – Be annoying.
Call every day to check the status of your refill, even if you get a hard time from your doc/pharmacists. And you will get a hard time. Trust me.
5 – Write stuff down.
Mental health is largely invisible, so the more information you bring to your doctor about your cycles, the more likely they are to believe you and help you. It’s hard to explain your crisis to a doctor six months later.
Notes can help with that.
6 – Suck up to Cerberus.
Your psychiatrist may be the nicest person in the world, but they are guarded by receptionists who double as brick walls between you and your healthcare. Get on their good sides now and save yourself a lot of condescension.
7 – Go for that referral even if you don’t need it.
I always assumed a great patient is one who rarely has to see the doctor. However, you may be dropped from their patient roster because you are never there.
8 – Expect suspicion.
A few years ago, I was a complete mess and made an emergency appointment at my family doctor, who was on holiday at the time. I had to see the fill-in doctor.
They refused to give me a note for any time off because they didn’t know me well enough, despite my medical records, which were open on his computer.
9 – Go to the hospital when all else fails.
I’ve had to tie up emergency room staff before because I needed pills but was stuck in refill limbo. I don’t like doing that, and I’m sure the ER staff didn’t appreciate it either. But, you come first – remember that.
10 – Embellish if need be.
At those times when urgency trumps dignity, there is an open secret on how to see a doctor quickly…
Go to Emerge and tell them you are suicidal.
That’s not even a joke. If you’re not in crisis, there is a high probability you will be brushed off.
Lastly – grow a thick skin.
Spoiler alert – I’m one of the 99 per cent of your friends who don’t re-post memes and inspirational sayings to the tune of “you are not alone.”
The truth is – you will be.
But, if you know what to expect, you can manage until the rest of the world catches up.