Mental Health Literacy and Access to Care

Access to care is a hot topic, but is it the right topic when talking about accessing mental health care? 

Scanning Canadian papers and magazines you are sure to find a mention of access to care for various physical conditions and procedures; hip replacements, knees, cancer care.  Most of these discuss lengthy wait times, limited resources and few care locations.  Very little discussion is given to what brought a person to seek help.  Perhaps this is because it is intuitive to us that a person experiencing pain or difficulty managing their day to day life will seek out care in the first place.

In the context of seeking mental health support this line is all too often blurred. Stigma comes from many different places.  What we see, what we hear, what we experience and in turn what we think and how we act.  For many individuals we talk to it is not until we explore these factors that surprising barriers to care can become clear.

Within each of us are our own expectations for what we should or should not be able to do or tolerate.  We have our own values and beliefs about what it means to be strong or when to ask for help.  We have our own understanding of how we are functioning on a day to day basis and develop our own strategies to cope with the challenges we face. We bring assumptions to what a mental health challenge may mean for our future.

What can be equally powerful are those influences around us.  When we talk or don’t talk about our thoughts, concerns, feelings and perceptions what does that say to those around us. When we struggle to find the words to express concern where is that coming from? When we engage in conversation about mental illness is our conversation one of support, understanding and acceptance?  Do we turn towards those who are hurting or turn away for uncertainty as to what to say or do?

Too often that we hear from families and individuals that they have waited to access care, until a point of crisis, out of concern about response from family, coworkers or friends.  We hear from individuals that struggled to find the words to ask for help. 

Individuals that struggle to navigate a complex system of pathways to care. 

Evidence shows the importance of early intervention in all areas of mental health from the child or adolescent experiencing trauma due to bullying or the effects of anxiety, depression, and isolation to the adult living with bipolar disorder, Schizophrenia or childhood trauma to the Senior experiencing symptoms of dementia or depression.

Having conversations about our observations or concerns are important. Reaching out is important.  

Some questions to consider:

  • Have you ever contemplated learning more about mental health and how to how assist individuals experiencing a mental health challenge? 
  • What can we do to feel confident in reaching out and encouraging those that are having difficulties to seek help? 
  • How would you go about how having those difficult conversations? 
  • Do we talk about the positive experiences we have had in seeking out support for mental health challenges?
  • When we see someone struggling do we encourage the use of local crisis lines, mental health community agencies, family physicians, psychiatrists and nurse practitioners?

Give some consideration to seeking out a mental health first aid program and look for opportunities to  enhance our own mental health literacy.  What can we say and do together to be the change we want to see, to make that first ask for help or the first reach out to someone hurting easier and more comfortable? Perhaps it takes a community to help create dialogue and acceptance.