Sunday, August 2, 2015

A sociologist compares access to guns vs mental health services in Canada

During one of my study breaks, I happened to look at Facebook and came across a cartoon and a subsequent discussion that made me decide to change my blog post from "Drink more water" to instead writing up a comparative analysis on the accessibility of firearms vs. mental health services in Canada. Both important topics but you know I can't resist an opportunity to write about mental health!

So here is the cartoon:

The cartoon depicts a mentally unstable person (i.e., bald guy, with crazy face and bad posture) standing before two options: 1) Access to mental health care and 2) GUNS!!

Explanation 1: it is easier to gain access to guns vs mental health services

Obviously I could get all sociologist here and further examine the cartoon for underlying messages but I'm not writing a dissertation here, so we will stick to the simple "explanation 1".

Perhaps it is true that guns are easier to access than mental health services but surely that is only a reality in the US. After all, I can't just walk into any store in Canada and purchase a firearm; however, I'm not sure I can do that in the US either but I did see this Michael Moore movie "bowling for columbine" which won an academy award for best documentary and shit so I can assume it to be true.

Naturally I comment on the cartoon in typical arrogant Andrea fashion:

I may not be able to walk into any corner store and buy a gun like in the USA (I can only assume, as I've never tried). Although it may be easier to gain access to a gun than mental health care in Canada. I feel I could have found a gun a lot quicker than it did to get an appointment with a health care professional that could treat depression adequately. But maybe I'm wrong, maybe it would take me longer than 1.5 years to find a gun in Canada?

I was informed that the process for gaining a firearm in Canada is quite the lengthy process. And naturally that upset me because it suggests that I'm wrong. And of course it is ridiculous that it would take one longer than 1.5 years to get a firearm! I mean we should all have timely access to firearms and at the very least I should be able to access a firearm way quicker than it would be for me to receive adequate mental health services, right?!

So now I have a point to prove, after all, I can't be wrong, that NEVER happens.

So off to Google God to give me the answer.

I type in "getting a gun in Canada"

1st result:
A website created by a very informative passionate man named Noah (no relation to the Noah in the Bible) who basically tells you all the steps you will need to accomplish to get a license to own a firearm in Canada. Honestly, it was very comprehensive and easy to follow, I was quite impressed.  I feel the over process is lengthy but it is pretty straightforward.

Next I type into Google God "getting mental health services in Canada"

1st result:

I come to the homepage for Canadian Mental Health Association (a voluntary association that provides over 100,000 mental health services to over 120 communities across Canada).  There are some moving flashy pictures at the top and some sub-options entitled: 1) mental health, 2) public policy, and 3) Get involved.

I'm going to assume I want to click on Mental Health to find services as the other 2 options don't sound like it. Confirming my assumption is the short descriptor that falls below the sub-option:

Learn how to take care of your mental health. 
Get the facts about mental illness. 
Find help for yourself or others.

When I scroll over the sub-option to click it, 5 further options come up- the 5th is "Find Help", sounds like I'm headed in the right direction, so I click on it, and I'm brought to this page:

Ok, so I'm taken to a page that tells me with too  many words why I'm on that page (i.e., I'm on the page to find help) and then it directs me elsewhere for help...

So I check out the community support services for BC and all I can say is thank god rural people don't get depressed! Seriously though, I search for something near by with my postal code and a Victoria location is listed and so I click on it and get "page not found".

Yeah, I'm not making this shit up.

So after several clicks I'm still not sure how to get services for mental health except for the obvious call 911 or visit my GP for a referral to a mental health specialist.

Clearly a lengthy process and doesn't seem easy to navigate...but let's say you try going through your GP to access services, are they more accessible that way?

Well, the answer to that largely rests on your GP. Unfortunately, most GPs do not know how to deal with mental health issues, and the wait to see a specialist can take a minimum of 3 months if your GP will even give you a referral.

All I have is my own experience of the system as a patient and the anecdotal experience of others to say I may get access quicker than a firearms licence (allegedly, as I don't have a firearm license to compare) but the process to obtain mental health care services is not as clearly laid out, and even if you get services it doesn't mean they are appropriate or adequate mental health services.

And now for the qualitative sociological self-narrative of my experience with the mental health  system part of this blog post. 

My last bought with depression was pretty awful, as you are aware if you are a regular reader of this blog but just in case you are not, here is a link to all my blog posts with the label "depression" - if you go back to the first entry "Christmas thoughts" in 2009 you will see mention of the sun lamp, that was my previous GP's suggestion to dealing with my seasonal depression, it worked in so much as I didn't kill myself but fuck I still was pretty depressed!And of course things got even worse come 2013, so clearly my depression was not being treated adequately.

And you may think, how bad could it have been if you lived to blog about it? And I would say it is still pretty bad espeically if you are not me. Why is it not so bad for me?  Truth be told, I know the system pretty well and I've had depression my entire life so I was at an advantage this time around because I knew what was happening even though my GP couldn't deal with it in the most efficient manner.

Also in my favour, is that I'm intimately familiar with bureaucratic processes, I am a sociologist after all :) So for me, I got through the last time only because it was me and I kept pushing for help. And I knew if it was anyone else going through what I did and experiencing a major depressive episode for the first time, I probably would have killed myself out of sheer frustration.

And that is what it is like if you know you have depression and need help BUT most people who need help might not be able to admit it (due to stigma) and by the time they need it, something undesirable must happen in order for them to receive help. Apparently if you are suicidal you are taken way more seriously, but it is unfortunate it has to come to that in order to get help and for some people to realize they need help.

If you know you are struggling or finding it hard to cope and you reach out to your GP you better hope s/he can deal with it and if not I encourage you to find one that can. If you don't have the energy to find a GP who knows about treating mental health, perhaps you could try educating them by providing them with a clinical practice guideline on mental health.

Here is a link to a super awesome guideline on depression! There is also a patient guide available, which I have heard from some patients is quite helpful.

And yes, I may have been involved in the creation of said guideline but I will have you know that it is evidence-based, developed by a working group of GPs and specialists AND my psychiatrist refers to it quite regularly! How is that for endorsement!

Seriously though, the process to receive mental health services is convoluted at the best of times and the process becomes harder to navigate the longer your mental health issues go untreated and your health further deteriorates. The process is further confounded if you have a GP who does not know how to deal with mental health issues or how to navigate the mental health care system.

There are organizations there to help, such as the Canadian Mental Health Association. I have met some lovely compassionate people at the CMHA, technical difficulties aside. And of course, there are always clinical practice guidelines that can offer some assistance. And there is always talking about it with others who have been through similar situations, being vocal and normalizing the experience is one of the only ways we can reduce the stigma and help others get help :)

However, it has become clear to me what we really need to do to improve access to mental health  services, is we need to hire Noah to design a website for us and layout the process in as clear and efficient manner as he has in order to get us guns in Canada.

And now time for a selfie :)

My eyebrows look really awesome!

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