Here's why talking openly about mental health issues can go a long way

Heather Loeb
Guest columnist

I’ve struggled with mental illness for a long time, but it wasn’t until after having kids that it worsened and things got scary.

My doctor and I butted heads about breastfeeding while on antidepressants. I stopped breastfeeding, only to be met with post-weaning depression, with which my psychiatrist was not experienced. I tried to find another psychiatrist, but my insurance only covered a couple in the area. So I stuck with him. What choice did I have?

He prescribed different antidepressants, anti-psychotics and benzodiazepines, but it was pricey — about $300 a month for just one of the medications. I spent a lot trying to find the right drug. Desperate, I abused my anxiety meds, because I felt nothing was going to work.

I ended up in a private psychiatric hospital, the Menninger Clinic, in Houston. 

My point in rehashing this terrible experience is that mental health care in the U.S. is a disaster. People literally cannot afford to be ill. Going to that private hospital cost thousands of dollars. My psychiatrist is $125 per visit and doesn’t take insurance. Neither does my therapist, who charges $100. It is a privilege to get the kind of care I’m now receiving.

Even though one in five Americans reports having a mental disorder — that’s 51.5 million people (in 2019) — most can’t afford doctor visits, meds or therapy. The dichotomy between disorders reported and services actually received saddens me.

And it makes me mad. It should make you mad, too.

If you’re having suicidal thoughts, visit the nearest emergency room or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

So many barriers exist for people suffering with mental illness, especially for people of color. Cost. Access (too few minority providers). It doesn’t help that the stigma still attached to mental disorders keeps people from reaching out. Minority communities and men are less likely to seek help.

When people feel cornered, they turn to other ways of feeling better. I abused benzodiazepines because I wanted to feel anything but the despair and pain that depression causes. It was so easy to do. Those who can’t find relief from the pain often die by suicide. It’s tragic.

We must do better, and the time is now because the number of people reporting a mental disorder is going to skyrocket due to the pandemic and all the loss we’ve suffered. It can happen to anyone, but it shouldn’t be only rich white women who get help. I’m grateful for not falling through the cracks, but it breaks my heart knowing others are suffering without hope.

I urge you to speak with your local representatives and congressmen/congresswomen about access to low-cost mental healthcare.

Please talk openly with your friends and family about mental illness and reduce the stigma. If you need medication, speak to your doctor about affordable options and request samples.

Check out low-cost therapy, as well as online therapy. Talk to your primary care physician about referrals to psychiatrists.

Let’s provide a strong safety net for those who fall.

If you’re having suicidal thoughts, visit the nearest emergency room or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Heather Loeb

For more than 20 years, Heather Loeb has experienced major depression, anxiety and a personality disorder, while also battling the stigma of mental health. She is the creator of Unruly Neurons (www.unrulyneurons.com), a blog dedicated to normalizing depression and a member of State Rep. Todd Hunter’s Suicide Prevention Taskforce.  

MIND MATTERS

Now more than ever we need to take care of our mental health. Opinion Contributor Heather Loeb discusses why and explores other important mental health topics in this special series.