Most of you probably remember my post about my father and his bipolar disorder. Amazingly, that post not only gardnered a great response from my friends and family, but also opened an honest dialogue between me and my dad about his disease. Through some luck and a massive amount of effort, my dad has been more functional this summer than he has been in five years. For the first time in a long time, he was trying.
That's why it hurt all the more to get that call. I immediately got in the car and drove to his house, to see what help I could give, knowing all too well that there is often nothing I can do when he begins to slip into a depression. However, the rapport that we had built up in the summer showed. For the first time ever, I was completely comfortable saying "I'm worried about you. This is what we need to do." We agreed to make a doctor's appointment for as soon as possible. A simple start.
Not quite. Even though I had a long list of referrals from his primary care physician, I left the house two hours later with no appointment booked. Time and again I heard, "We're not accepting new patients," or "Sorry, we don't take that insurance." At one point my dad looked at me and said, "You have no idea the anxiety this causes me. I wouldn't be able to do it." Out of a list of more than ten providers, one was able to see my dad, on the condition that he come into the office to make his appointment in person. For you or I, that would be an inconvenience. For someone slipping deeper into a depression it's a daunting obstacle.
Nearly everyone would agree that the healthcare system in the U.S. is broken, and it often seems that the mentally ill have the shortest end of the stick. With little or no preventative care, their diseases are left to run rampant. Then, when they are at a critical point, they must find their way through the health care labyrinth. No wonder so many get lost.
My father is lucky enough to have a large family, where there is always someone willing to help. One of us can step in when another is burned out. I can't imagine any mentally-ill patient going at it alone.
In the end, he got an appointment, which another family member took him to. He's weaving his way through the healthcare maze, and despite the bump in the road, he's still trying.