Once upon a time I was a young(er) lad who was having struggles getting help from the Los Angeles County mental health department. I was dealing with acute bouts of major depression, but, I was turned down again and again and again. Each of the clinics told me they were working with more clients than they could handle and they weren’t taking any more. I spiraled out of control and wound up sleeping in the streets for a while.
I felt defeated until finally there was a break through. I was able to check myself into the psychiatric ward at Cedars Sinai Hospital. They kept me for 10 days. They expected to release me after seven days but had to keep me for an extra three because they couldn’t find a county clinic that had room to accept me as a client. Finally, to my doctor’s relief, he was able to get me assigned to a clinic that was only a three hour bus ride from my home. That’s right, a three hour bus trip to the outer edge of the city to get there, then sitting in the waiting room for at least an hour, about a half an hour with an intern and then another three hour bus trip home. A seven in a half hour day. The process of receiving therapy from the intern was disheartening. She literally had a booklet that would tell her what questions to ask me. When I would respond she would then turn to the appropriate page to ask me the next question. Apparently my responses took me to the right pages because the sessions would end with me finally getting a prescription for anti-depressants.
This went on for about three months. I tried numerous times to get into the clinic in Hollywood because I could walk to it, but they always turned me away. They are the busiest mental health clinic in the county, so I couldn’t get in. Finally I just stopped going on my long bus excursions. I don’t recall it being any kind of conscience decision. I just stopped.
I was able to function as a productive member of society for a good number of years after that when suddenly things began to fall apart again. This time I could tell was going to be different than my previous bouts of depression. This time was going to be much worse…and it was. I lost my job, I began having seizures and became agoraphobic. I lived in an entirely different area of the county and had no idea where to go or what to do. I called the county mental health line and asked where I could seek help. The clerk on the other end of the line told me where to go and then warned me to “keep in mind that the county clinics are struggling for funding so the primary function of those who work in admissions is to not admit you.” This was not what I wanted to hear. I was going to have to jump through hoops all over again. He then proceeded with this advice, “when you get there you need to make it look like you really, really need the help. They have to believe that you are likely going to kill yourself, if you don’t get in.” In fact, he continued “it would be best for you to put on a really good show and flat out tell them emphatically that you are going to kill yourself. If they don’t believe it, you are not going to get in.”
Apparently I am not a master thespian because I didn’t make the cut. They refused to admit me “because [I was] too high functioning.” I didn’t feel like I was high functioning. Then the saddest thing anyone has ever said to me was “when you get worse, come back and we’ll see if we can get you in then.” WHAT??? He really said “WHEN” not “IF”, but “WHEN.” Once again, “when you get worse…” Clearly preventive care was a very low priority. Perhaps, not even part of the program.
What happened after that? Was I able to get the help I needed? If so, how was I able to get the help? The answers to this question and many more will be posted in Part two of “When You Get Worse.” See you tomorrow.