My Story

How do I get help? : Navigating the Maze of Healthcare

So what now? We know that we’re sick, we know we need help, we have probably accepted that this will be a hard run on our own.  No matter how much love our friends and family have for us it’s impossible for them to have all of the answers. We don’t know where to start! We likely don’t have the motivation to dig deep and work through this alone. So, what now? What do we do?

It is fantastic that there are so many resources out there, that the world is starting to wake up to the reality of depression, there are blogs and forums aplenty to help you read up, recognise and accept that you are not alone. But we’re all different, we all have different passions, loves, likes, dislikes and triggers, not one method can work for all of us. So we need to seek help.

My experience thus far is that no matter where you are in the world, access to Mental Health Professionals can be time consuming and expensive. When you are having trouble even just picking your head up off the pillow, the very thought of navigating the complex maze of your local healthcare system and having to talk over and over and over again about your condition, is just about as desirable as slowly being nibbled alive by squirrels.

I would like to add a disclaimer at this point, this isn’t going to be a general “wah wah medical health care sucks, boo hiss NHS” kind of post. Yes I think there is still some work to do, but our access to health care is actually incredible, especially when you really compare it to other countries.  We should all always keep this in mind when we take to complaining about having to wait 45 minutes for a blood test at our local hospital. Have you ever seen John Q with Denzel Washington?  If not watch it and then run to your nearest NHS hospital and give the first Dr you see a great big hug, which you won’t have to pay for.

I want to help people understand that you CAN get the right help, you CAN find Drs and Counsellors and Physicians who care. You CAN get better! It will require a little bit of work, but there are so many ways you can get that help.

So, what is your first move – as with any other illness you need to speak to your General Practitioner, your local GP.  Your GP should be able to have a decent conversation with you about what your needs are, whether medication is the best course and how to get access to talking therapies or Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) in your area.  I’ve mentioned in a previous post that I spoke to two GP’s before I found someone who I felt took me seriously, actually wanted to listen and attempted to understand my needs. This is important people!  Remember you are not stuck with a single GP, if you don’t particularly connect with the first GP you meet, ask the reception to see someone different, there should be no fear or shame in getting a second opinion, or even third or fourth. This is your health, we need to trust our guts and stick with what feels right.

It is incredibly important that you speak about medication, Psychopharmacology is covered by the NHS, but in most cases should not be used as a solitary approach to treatment. You and your GP need to discuss which is best for you, some drugs are better at addressing anxiety while others are better at simply lifting a low mood. Be honest and be prepared to give it a chance. It may take some time to get the right type and the right dosage before you start to feel the effects it can have. Some people take quite well to it, others don’t. While others take to it far to well and don’t look into further therapies.

I wish I could think of another word, but disappointment is the only word that comes to mind when I hear about someone suffering and only taking anti-depressants. It’s like trying to cover a black tattoo with a sharpie, it may look like it’s being fixed, but it certainly isn’t a long term solution. Anti-depressants work their best when they are coupled with talking therapy. They can help you to manage your anxiety levels in order to rationally address the underlying issues. They help you manage your sleeping, eating and social patterns so you can continue with the true challenge of healing. Your GP is not your fairy godmother waving her anti-depressant wand to make it all better.  They cannot cure you. Only you can cure you.

Another route to start is within your employer. Most companies will offer a completely anonymous Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Again I’ve mentioned before that they can offer short term support and counselling. For some, the three to six sessions that you can have for free are enough. If not, here again you have a resource to help you decide which route is best for you in working further towards optimal mental health. Ask the EAP counsellor what further services are available depending on your requirements, including free, low cost or private options depending on your financial situation.

My largest concern when it came to getting better was cost. By the time I had had three sessions with my counsellor and spoken to my GP, I knew I wanted therapy. I needed to talk to someone, figure out just what it was in my head that had brought me to this point. I didn’t know myself very well and I needed help understanding how to find myself again. Okay, decision made. Now what? I can’t afford private consultations, the cheapest you would be lucky to get are in the of £50-£75 an hour range, attending ideally once a week still comes to £200-£300 a month on top of normal spending money and bills. Hardly seems fair that mental health is only available to the financially stable.

Since 2006 the NHS Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) program has been in place and they have made some good headway. You are able to either self-refer or ask your GP to refer to you to a free or low cost service subsidised by the NHS in your area. Click here to search. As you can imagine, these services are very busy – for many struggling there are few other options than NHS services and therefore there is a waiting time. I completed a self-referral online, waited two weeks for a consultation phone call and was told I could expect to wait approximately six weeks before I was able to see a counsellor, I think this is fairly standard. For some this waiting time will be absolutely no problem, many will be able to get on with their lives and function – I was not in that space.

Your next option is Private medical coverage. In the UK your options are basically Bupa, Aviva or AXA. I would suggest getting quotes from all, finding out if you can whether a recommended Psychiatrist or Counsellor is accessible to you with their coverage, and questions around any concerns you may have. I have seen news articles about coverage stopping after two years, some that will not accept pre-existing conditions and limited access to different types of therapies. Understand your options, your limitations and any important considerations before you choose one. Don’t just be sold on a cheap premium, this is an investment in you and a healthy mental state.

I had Private Medical Insurance and was referred by my GP to a Dr at a private hospital in London. The insurer I worked with was surprisingly easy and fairly stress free. I submitted my query alongside my GP referral letter which detailed my requirements. They approved my initial three sessions, I then responded saying my therapist has suggested a minimum of six psychiatrist sessions and eight CBT Counselling sessions. To which they replied – go ahead, use this reference number.  Phew! Done! That was easy!

Okay it wasn’t the easiest, but with only three GP appointments, a few online forms, some telephone calls and some kick myself in the bum motivation I got myself to a place where I could focus on getting better.  I hear a lot of sufferers say that the system doesn’t work, that no one understands them, they’ve seem a million GP’s and NO ONE is willing to help. It is simply not true –  yes sometimes we have to go through several avenues, but if you want to get better you can find a way. That is what it comes down to – YOU CURE YOU.

One final thing to note, I am not a Dr or an expert on the NHS. This is just from my personal experience and I hope it helps!



2 thoughts on “How do I get help? : Navigating the Maze of Healthcare

  1. robin1967 says:

    I live in the U.S., but the gist of what you’re saying applies here too. The process may be a little different, but the expense, time delays in getting appointments, and shortage of providers (psychiatrists especially) is the same.

  2. I agree that it costs too much to get help. I’m a therapist and I feel like it’s tough for most.
    You may find good help online. I’m putting together an online program but it’s not ready yet. I had 18 years of major depression, recovered fully, and have been a licensed therapist for 10 years. So there is hope!! Hang in there.

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