Many times, we think that getting mental health help is easy, but this isn’t always the case. Appointments are starting to become more available virtually, but some places don’t offer this option, or it may not be available for certain problems. And, with the rising incidences of stress and anxiety prompted by the pandemic and other challenges, available appointments both in-person and online have become even more limited as more and more people seek assistance.
It can be hard to schedule appointments
The first roadblock preventing those with mental health issues from getting the help they need is the difficulty in setting up appointments. Even if you do have insurance, you must take the time to research which offices nearby accept that insurance.
Once that is figured out, you still have to call and set up an appointment, and hope that they have space available. Calling already leads to anxiety for many people, and connecting with a doctor’s office isn’t usually just a one-time deal. Many people have recently noticed that no matter how often they call or at which times they try to get in contact, it’s a challenge to get calls returned in the timely fashion we used to expect.
Even when an appointment is scheduled, it can often be months out. This leads to people forgetting, or issues coming up that may cause them to reschedule. In the case of mental health, concerns can grow worse in those interim months as situations change while waiting to be seen, and then people may be unable or unwilling to make their appointment.
Some places only allow for new patient appointments at certain times of the year, causing appointments to be delayed even further.
For those places allowing for scheduling appointments online, it can be a great help, but the limited appointments can still be problematic for people who may not get the help they need in a timely manner.
Getting the mental health counselling you need isn’t always easy. Depending on your healthcare plan you may be able to go straight to see someone that can help. But for some plans and certain practices, you’re required to get referrals. This often means you first have to get a general practitioner to talk to you and give you the referral.
This can be stressful, more expensive and redundant, having to repeat the same information several times and paying for each visit.
Having easy access straight to the mental health professional you need can make it easier for people to schedule an appointment and get the help they need.
Even when an appointment finally comes up, it may not work out the way people expect. There are plenty of horror stories that can turn off potential new clients about doctors that don’t care or don’t actually listen to patients.
While of course, that isn’t every doctor, having limited time to meet with a patient and being overworked may lead to people’s problems being generalised. This means that often, no matter the issue, the same methods and medications are prescribed. This can be the case even if the patient has been on the same medications before without help.
This is not unusual in the medical field and can lead to people not trusting doctors, or being unwilling to miss a day of work and pay money to get what may seem like unhelpful advice.
Appointments often start late
Since doctors typically only operate during the business week, this leads to many people having to miss work to get an appointment. Since most people can’t afford to miss work, even for a day, some people will schedule a half day.
This can lead to frustrations when appointments are delayed by up to two hours, just for a 15-minute appointment. This can cause you to miss more work than you thought, and is a general frustration as it wastes time someone could be doing other necessary tasks.
Of course, doctors get backlogged due to unexpected delays, but the scheduling process can really benefit from an overhaul, by creating a reasonable window that patients can expect to wait at a doctor’s office. With emergency rooms and urgent care, it is understandable, but when appointments are scheduled months in advance, it is hard to spend two hours simply waiting to have a 15-minute appointment.
Another big obstacle is financing. Not everyone has health insurance that will cover mental healthcare. Even if they do, there is often a back-and-forth process with insurance companies to make sure that they actually pay for what they are supposed to. All of this plus the addition of missing a day of work, and many people find it just isn’t worth it.
Health gets pushed to the side a lot in this current work environment, and mental health is at the very bottom of the list. Many people don’t see that the constant therapy appointments or prescriptions are worth the cost.
It isn’t reasonable to expect therapists to drop their prices or medications to cost less, but there must be an awareness that this is a large barrier that prevents people from getting the mental health help they need.
Getting to the appointment
The final problem is actually getting to the appointment. Many people don’t have vehicles, especially in cities, or reliable modes of transportation. Some big cities have options like buses, trains, taxis, and rideshare programs, but not everyone has access to those if they live outside of major cities.
The cost of these options can also be too much for people as well. Even short rides can cost hours’ worth of pay. Some areas are offering mini bus charters and other ride programs for those that need help getting to their appointment, but they may still cost money or require a referral. These may also be limited to people who live in the vicinity of a major city.
Making these options more widely available would be useful. Even with the cost, a mini charter bus that is dedicated only to helping people get to doctors’ appointments can be helpful and reduce some of the anxiety and stress that comes with trying to improve one’s mental health.
Robert Haynes did his degree in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. He is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.
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