My Issue with Mental Health Care in the US (AR Essay) by Amina Rodriguez

Nov 11 2017 – Given that people are beginning to realize that domestic violence may be an issue we shouldn’t be ignoring, I’d like to share a story, one of many crazy stories I could pull out of my life. I am normally very private but I believe these are times that require us to be a little more authentic and honest with each other. This is an issue I’m very passionate about since I’ve experienced it myself and as a child. I grew up watching my mother get brutally beaten at the hands of her husbands. My personal experiences of violence are many and varied but what I want to focus on is the neglect of some mental health care providers and the failure of the mental health care system in the US.

While living in Miami I was on disability for about 10 years for chronic depression, one of the most common reasons people are on disability in the US. I was told I would very likely need to be on disability and on medications for the rest of my life. That same doctor who told me these things eventually referred me to another doctor for a series of ECT treatments which I did not complete due to the horrible side effects. He had run out of medication samples for me to try. Prescription antidepressants never worked for me, from Prozac to Cymbalta and everything in between.

This was many years ago, today I have been off of all prescriptions for over two years now and I am no longer disabled. At the time I was a mess, not knowing what was wrong with me. My mother had raised me a Christian and led me to believe at one point that I was evil or possibly possessed. I realize now this was due to her ignorance of what sexual trauma can do to a young child and her religious beliefs prevented her from even accepting psychology.

I was living with PTSD without anyone diagnosing me until maybe three years ago in my 40s. Of course, at this point, I had insurance through my employer at the time and I had finally found a female psychiatrist which was important to me. This doctor was the first to actually listen to me and would take as long as needed during my appointments, far more than the 2-minute drug push I’d get from other psychiatrists when I was on Medicaid.

My experience with the male doctors was before I went back to college and studied some psychology which helped me to understand things a little bit better. I’ve been doing my own personal research for years now. But the real kicker is that during part of the time I was treated by him I was dating a man that was very psychologically abusive and also physically abusive. I had experienced psychological abuse since early childhood so I was blind to the abuse initially and even believed I deserved it. This doctor knew this and today I feel that he could have maybe suggested I report him but he didn’t. I walked into his office once with a bruise which I pointed out to him and his solution was that I shouldn’t be in relationships. I was in my mid-20s at the time and a single mom. At that point, I had no self-esteem at all. I was separated from my ex-husband who had left me for another woman while pregnant with my daughter who is my youngest.

At that time I had not developed a self-esteem or identity for that matter. I was non-verbal as a child in certain environments like school as a result of my fear of authority which made me a target for bullying throughout my childhood. No one ever even tried to find out what could be happening in my life during my early childhood, if anything I was treated like a freak. I went to 6 different schools in 4 different states as a child and struggled to fit in anywhere. In middle school, I was accused of being on drugs before I had even tried any. But regardless, that was my childhood. My point is this doctor I trusted at the time did nothing like the schools I went to and I lived through many more years of abuse after that.

Mental health care in the United States is in a sad state. Poor people tend to get inadequate care in the US if they get any at all. It’s faulty, it’s not working for everyone. Access to quality care is dependent on your income and that is unethical in my mind. I know this from my own experience. Yet  I am mentally healthier today without psychiatric treatment or therapy than I have ever been and no thanks to any prescription drug. I respect whatever anyone chooses for themselves but for myself, prescriptions make no sense for long-term treatment of PTSD and especially complex trauma. Different modes of meditation have helped me far more than medications.

Another thing I’ve realized from my experience is that male doctors are not always able to relate to women with sexual trauma due to their personal biases. After many failed attempts at therapy as well (never found one I could trust)  I realized I had to take my own health into my own hands and today I’m healthier as a result. I believe that healing is an on-going continuous process. Today I refuse to be labeled and I take my health very seriously. I strongly believe that most of us can heal ourselves with some guidance. I’ve learned from many other people but never had any luck with the mental health system in place.

I strongly believe that the problem I faced with doctors is due to the outdated views we continue to hold in the US about mental illnesses and the stigma behind them. There has been some improvement in mental health therapies but it takes time for that improvement to be applied to care for people who cannot afford fancy treatments and therapies, those who have no health insurance, go to free clinics or are on Medicaid. Also, we should re-evaluate our individual views on mental illness. I do not believe they should be viewed as illnesses, they are natural symptoms we develop as a result of the bigger ills in our society and our collective reluctance to accept change. Another problem is the lack of respect for people’s real-life experiences, patients who’ve been through the system should be given a voice and should be taken more seriously.

I am grateful today because my personal experience led me to find far better solutions to an issue that affects so many of us and I know views are changing. In my opinion, every human being experiences trauma, especially in this backward society. And considering who we have for president I think we may all be coming out of this traumatized, I’m hoping not. So instead of labeling people and squeezing them into tight boxes, this is what we should be concerned about, and work on fixing the failed systems of mental health care.