Seeking Support

Lately, I’ve been feeling worse after visiting my health care provider.  I’m a basically healthy person with occasional aches, pains and mysterious –and fleeting—skin rashes.  If these pains or rashes don’t right themselves in a week or two, I contact my health care provider.  The typical reaction is disinterest.  Sometimes she gives me a handout.   After realizing I hadn’t had a physical in a couple of years, I suggested: How about a physical exam? Why is something wrong? she asked. 

I’m relatively new to managed care.  I had been one of the fortunate consumers of employer-provided comprehensive health insurance.  I had a so-called Cadillac plan, typical of the kind that has driven up the cost of health care.  I loved it.  I went to podiatrists, physical therapists, chiropractors, and even massage therapists when and if I liked.  They all seemed interested in my health. I felt supported.

Looking for Love in All Places

I found a consultant who helps me with technical issues related to my website. He charges by the minute. I want to call him every day; he seems interested in my success. I also hired a marketing consultant.  I’d like her to tell me what to do and to encourage me to keep doing it; she is reluctant to take over my life.

Perhaps all any of us wants is to feel supported. I hear and read about loners who turn into mass shooters and wonder if these men (mass shooters are, in fact, overwhelmingly male) ever thought about getting help or if they believed their rage was “normal.”  Perhaps they were afraid to ask for support.

If you search our government website under mental health, the impression given is that help is readily available for anyone with mental health concerns.  Even those of us lucky enough to have health insurance find the maze of working through the system daunting.  Typically, insurers –even HMO’s (health maintenance organizations) -- outsource mental health services.  Individuals under their plans must contact an in-network therapist with hopes of finding one who will answer the call; many don’t.  If one is feeling only slightly overwhelmed, lacking confidence, initiative or stamina, this process alone can create a crisis.

I made an appointment with my new primary care physician shortly after my dog died and a good friend was struggling with serious health issues.  Unlike most people, I imagine, I did not try to disguise my sadness. I completed the obligatory questionnaire which is supposed to screen for depression.  Although I did not indicate I was suicidal, the questionnaire absolutely reflected my fragile state of mind.  The physician flatly stated, it appears you’re depressed.  I explained what was going on with me.  She nodded; our 15-minute appointment was up.  No referrals or recommendations were offered.

Stressed Out

My experience is not unusual.  Many of my clients share similar stories.  Research conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA) indicates that extreme levels of stress are on the rise.  Promoted remedies such as joining support groups, improving social skills, and reaching out to others allude those who find getting out of bed a herculean effort.  For those with severe mental illness, relying on immediate family, schools and other “institutions” to identify and somehow force treatment is unrealistic.

In the wake of more mass shootings, we’re perplexed about how our society can deal with untreated mental illness.  Having worked in public education for over a decade, identifying young people who need more support is the easy part.  As the cliché goes, I wish I had a dollar for every student for whom I recommended counseling.  Some of these students still occupy my thoughts, many years later. Of the ones who seemed seriously off-kilter, I worry that I will read about them in the news related to a violent act someday.

But, of course, not everyone who needs support or is suffering a mental illness commits a violent act. In fact, most individuals with psychiatric disorders are not violent.  When psychiatric disorder is combined with substance abuse or other risk factors, the rates of violence increase, but those with severe mental illness are more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators.

The Healing Process

Whether we have a serious psychiatric disorder or garden variety stress and depression, finding support can be a challenge.  Most of my successful experiences with therapists and counselors came as a result of a referral by a trusted friend or family member.  One time, I landed on a good match from perusing my insurer’s list of in-network providers.  I consider this a fluke. 

When I moved to California, I asked a therapist in my yoga class for a recommendation.  It was a good referral, albeit a self-paying one.  Although my yoga colleague may have thought it odd that someone she hardly knew was asking for a referral, she didn’t appear surprised.  My best advice is to ask for a referral from anyone who seems like a kindred spirit.

Many counselors and therapists will offer a complimentary phone consultation so both of you can determine if the match will work.  Prepare for this consultation with a list of questions that will enable you to screen for compatibility.  If you have specific issues, ask the therapists about his or her experience with clients with similar issues.

Most self-respecting therapists, counselors, or coaches want to feel successful.  To this end, they may screen prospects as well.  I have had a few therapists over the course of my 50 years seeking support, who I felt didn’t like me.  They seemed frustrated by my concerns and, perhaps, lack of progress…just guessing.  This isn’t helpful to anyone. 

Sometimes one experiences false starts in seeking support.  One needs to give the relationship a chance to develop. But by the third or fourth appointment, if your therapist/counselor hasn’t fallen in love with you and you haven’t fallen in love with him or her, you may want to cut bait and go back to the drawing board.

Seeking support can be part of the healing process; the search requires persistence, perseverance and perspective.  Throw in a dash of humor and you’ve got what it takes to thrive in this topsy-turvy world.

“I tried to groan, Help! Help! but the tone that came out was that of polite conversation.”

                                                                                                                           --- Samuel Beckett