MH@H Mental Health

Has COVID Impacted Your Access to (Mental) Health Care?

Has COVID impacted your access to mental health care? - icons of different health specialties

It’s been more than a year, and COVID is still going strong. It’s made a lot of people sick and it’s killed a lot of people. The lockdowns and social distancing have given most people cabin fever, and the ongoing stress has been bad for everyone’s mental health. But what about those of us who have chronic health conditions, whether mental or physical? How has our access to health care been impacted by COVID?

It seems like my blogging friends in therapy have been among those hit the hardest. There’s no way virtual therapy could ever be a true substitute for actual presence. Some people have been able to get back to in-person therapy, some have muddled through, while others have had permanent ruptures with their therapists.

After some initial COVID confusion, my doctor started “seeing” patients by phone. His office staff have always sucked, and the phone thing only made that worse. It was doable when I needed something specific, but otherwise, it seemed like more bother than it was worth.

In summer 2020, my speech started getting quite impaired because of psychomotor retardation from my depression. Phone is harder than in person, so I showed up at the doctor’s office twice asking to see him in person, but the receptionists put the kibosh on that. Around the same time I sent in my disability benefits application. I talked to the doc a few times by phone, which was annoying because when I called the receptionists would always ask if I had an appointment, yet they would never offer me an appointment. I’d been hoping to wait until my speech got a bit better before going over the disability thing, but then I heard from the government with a deadline.

For the next 4 months, I was basically without real mental health care, because I had to keep hounding him to do the damn paperwork. I saw him once, because I showed up at his office and freaked out. On one occasion, I taped notes to the office entrance before it opened

Since the disability fiasco, it’s just been one hassle after another. A nurse practitioner at a nearby clinic was taking patients, but their receptionist said nope because I’m already “connected” to a doctor. How could I get disconnected? Yeah, no, I couldn’t. Um, ok. Then there was the psychiatrist who cancelled half an hour before a schedule appointment because apparently my needs can’t be met through a virtual clinic. Not that anyone will see me in person, but ok.

It hasn’t helped that all of this has made my depression worse, which has made my movement slower and my speech more impaired. GPs don’t know what severe psychomotor retardation is, unless they happened to see it in their psych rotation in med school back in the day. So they hear me on the phone and think I’m stupid, because that’s just what people assume. In the last month I’ve talked to 4 random GPs on the phone, and it just doesn’t work.

It doesn’t help matters that I’ve worked for too many years in the mental health system in this city and I know far too many people working in community mental health. It’s highly unlikely that I could manage to get myself hooked up to a community mental health team without stumbling across multiple people I’ve known professionally at some point along the way. That would just be excessively gross, and I really don’t need a mental health team anyway, so I’m choosing not to go in that direction.

So that’s my rant about COVID and health care. I know I’m certainly not the only one. There were all kinds of systems issues to begin with, plus stigma means that psych patients are likely to get a lower standard of care, and then COVID had added an extra layer of difficulty on top of all of that. Do you have any ranting of your own to do?

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39 thoughts on “Has COVID Impacted Your Access to (Mental) Health Care?”

  1. It’s hard to read about the horrid healthcare you’ve received! You deserve so much better!! I feel worried about you!! I hope you can find good doctors really soon!!

    My life has been strangely unaffected by covid. I’ve been “seeing” Dr. Phlegm via phone, which has been easier than driving out there on the highway. (He used to be near Bellarmine, my college, which is eight blocks up the road, but then Bellarmine bought his office building for expansion and kicked him out.) Then when I saw that therapist last summer, she did in-person. I do feel sad for everyone who’s found it to be a struggle to get good healthcare!! I’ve been lucky!!

  2. That is a crazy situation you have with your doctor. I’m sorry you had to go through it.

    I actually had Skype therapy before it was “cool”! My previous therapist relocated her practice and it was easier to meet on Skype than travel halfway across London every week, despite Skype sometimes going down. When she suggested it, I don’t think I even knew what Skype was.

    I stopped seeing that therapist a couple of years ago. When COVID hit, I wasn’t in therapy, but the combination of lockdown and Mum’s cancer (which was diagnosed a couple of months before COVID) and my ongoing autism diagnosis quest meant that I wanted to see another therapist. This one is on Skype too, because of COVID, although I chose one whose physical practice is not too hard to get to, in case I want to continue therapy after COVID — although as I’m reasonably happy speaking online, I might see if she is willing to continue that, to save myself the Tube fare and the hassle of travel.

    On the other hand, it was awkward having to take calls from my psychiatrist at work because COVID prevented me from going to see her in person. Although, given the days she works and the days I work, that could have ended up happening even without COVID, or I would have had to ask my boss for time off. Fortunately, COVID meant that the building was deserted, so I could find an empty office and my boss was OK with me taking some time out for the call.

  3. Teletherapy did not work for us: we dissociated and it triggered specific trauma and it exacerbated social anxiety. We tried it and had to stop. We came up with the idea of meeting Ts in our cars parked next to each other and conducting therapy that way. It wasn’t very private, it was often noisy, it rained, one T had allergies, there were bees, but it helped! These Ts put themselves out of their comfort zone to treat us, and we will be grateful forever. One T required us to meet in cars near that T’s house, and the drive was too long (37 min each way), so we eventually stopped abs have not seen that T in a year and May never again. Another T started seeing patients in person with masks in October, so we stopped meeting in cars then. We still meet makes even though we (not the T) are vaccinated.

    Another T hated meeting in cars. We did it only once. We had been seeing that T for 5 or 6 years. We don’t see each other any more and probably never will. We are still in the grieving process of that relationship, which is complex.

    We have a new T we see in person, usually masked but it’s our choice. We tried 3 other in-person Ts during pandemic before finding New T.

    We tried to get partial hospitalization during pandemic but it was teletherapy. When they did go in-person, it seems we had lost our ability to be around multiple people, drive places, have energy to invest in longer seasons. So even though we need hospital care now, we can’t bring ourselves to go. We are terrified of people and driving and the unknown. So we stick to 3 times a week with therapists and struggle.

    1. This is the problem I’ve found with COVID and my tendency to agoraphobia. If I don’t go out, it gets worse and then I can’t go out. So, I go out to the things we’re allowed. My world, however, is smaller. This is the funny thing about fear. One would think agreeing to its demands would put it to rest, but fear always ask for more and more concessions. 💕

      1. Wow. Your experience really made us think hard about what we can and can’t do. It’s the fear that says we can’t. There isn’t a voice telling us we can ☹️. We have less experience recently in doing hard things, like a big gap in our resume lol. We hope you continue to build up your callouses. We told our Spouse we would try to go out into public together when it’s time. Spouse is super outgoing and beloved. So stating the intention was supposed to put us on notice… Does stating an intention help you?

        1. I find stating thing helps me. I write them down in my day-planner, in fact. I keep the list small – one or two things I want to accomplish. This way, I don’t feel overwhelmed and get nothing done, leading me to call myself a failure. I think stating an intention is an excellent way to commit and am glad your Spouse is available and supportive 💗

  4. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but COVID is the only reason I have been able to receive the care I have. My day program I did for my eating disorder is technically located about 6 hours from where I live. We did the whole thing on zoom. If it had to be in person I wouldn’t have been able to do it – my insurance only covered the far away program for some reason. My dietician is over an hour away from me, and my psychiatrist will probably end up being just as far. Literally in the last year, I’ve been able to see all the specialists I’ve needed to, for free, because of COVID. I know a may be an anomaly, but I sure am grateful for it as they keep adding to my diagnosis. I think I’m at 5 now???

    1. You are lucky. In my area there is no IOP or more accurately they tossed therapeutic meals out the window because it would involve meeting in person. Without therapeutic meals I cannot get the help I need.

  5. This hit hard. What a rough year you’ve had. Plus the part about the psychiatrist who wouldn’t see you remotely because your needs can’t be met that way but no one will see you in person 🤦🏻‍♀️ Story of my year! Tf for R in my case. Let’s hope things ease soon so we can all start getting support we need again.

  6. I can’t comment on access pre-COVID because it was during COVID that I decided to see a therapist for the first time. There were a number of virtual options that were available, but I didn’t feel like I could get comfortable over Zoom/Skype/phone with someone I hadn’t ever met in a therapy setting that was new to me. Additionally, my living space really didn’t have the privacy I wanted. I did find a therapist willing to meet with me in person (with distancing, windows open, masks, etc.) and it worked out rather well.

  7. I have so little respect for GP’s anyway and now I have even less after hearing your story my queen. Well I have already discussed at length how lack of in-person therapeutic meals in my area for eating disorder had made me go untreated. I am a little mad at myself for trying to do res treatment in seattle that one day. I should have known better and that was quite the traumatizing day. I recall that it took a few days to unwind from that. There’s another example – placing people in a higher level of care they need to get them some form of treatment. I honestly think it’s better to tell a patient “we don’t have care for you at this time” than to throw them into a higher level and just hope it works out. But then if course if you are honest with them you lose that money. Well, they ended up not getting my money anyway. Perhaps I am being too cynical here, but either way we slice it, that was just a terrible experience all round and it can absolutely be traced back to the pandemic.

      1. Off topic but I took another squirrel video a couple days back and it might be the cutest because they look cute eating sunflower seeds. FYI.

  8. Sorry for all the hassles, Ashley. COVID didn’t have that big of an impact on my mental health care, so I guess I’m lucky in that way.

    Right before COVID, I began seeing a therapist online through BetterHelp, which has been good for me. I’ve done very extensive in-person therapy in person before, and at the moment, I feel like the online sessions are good check-ins to keep me grounded.

    I also started talking to my psychiatrist via the phone about once every few months (because of COVID). I’m happy with my psych doc now. He’s very professional and responsive. I’ve had some real bad experiences with psychiatrists in the past, so I did extra research when finding my current one.

    I hope your MH care gets a little easier.

  9. I’m sorry. In many ways, I’ve been very lucky. With disability, for instance, I had no real problems with either the long-term or the government. Of course, sharing your intimate secrets with total strangers and begging for help isn’t a thrill.

    My therapy has been good. We’ve used Medeo and I like it. My GP, not so good. I like him as a human, but the pandemic has made me realize he isn’t a very effective doctor, much of the time. I debate every day whether to go to a clinic or the hospital over my current medical issues, but I think I’m done with my GP, mostly.

    I imagine it would be very difficult to have to interact with former coworkers and professional acquaintances. It would be bad enough with a medical issue. Mental health things always feel more private. I’m open, but only to a degree and the rest I mostly want to share with strangers. Knowing more is an additional frustration. I wish I could fix the problem for you, send something more than good thoughts. 💕

    1. Thanks xo

      It’s funny, for the most part I’ve been quite open with colleagues about my illness, but people seeing me unwell is another thing, particularly since I’m quite overtly impaired right now. The manager of Vancouver’s centralized mental health intake is someone I would quite happily throw large rocks at, so that’s a bit of a turnoff. Plus I don’t need a case manager; a private practice psychiatrist would be fine. I’m pretty disappointed in my GP’s office because they’ve just been shit all around. At this point, I think I’ll probably just wait until the pandemic has eased off or until I’m vaccinated or whatever, because trying to do the phone thing, especially when it’s hard to speak, just isn’t working out well.

      1. People get very confused with the flat affect and impaired speech, even hostile. In person can definitely help with that. But for sure, COVID is showing us the best and the worst of people’s job skills.

  10. I hope your MH care gets easier. You deserve good medical professionals.

    For me, we’re fortunate. I can see my psychiatrist and therapist in person with masks and disinfecting procedures.

      1. Ah, we will probably still wear masks as our 2 vaccines (Pfizer and Mordena) aren’t fool proof. An inpatient nurse who was vaccinated came down with covid, so the hospital is now the largest cluster. Our government tightened restrictions yesterday but thankfully I can still see my providers in person with masks. ❤

  11. I feel bad for what you are going through and I really hope things can go your way as needed the soonest.
    From my side, at the beginning of 2020 before COVID-19, I was wondering if I needed counselling after the self-harming episodes. Then comes COVID-19, I did try to reach out to my e-counsellor. It seemed that she was busy with kids having special needs. I was reluctant and worried to drop by at the government hospital, not wanting to risk myself for COVID-19 infection. Most of the times, I was there only to collect my medication to make things easier since I feel that I still can handle myself with a part time job and sufficient time for PhD. Therapy takes time and commitment. For me, I was halfway through my PhD and just didn’t feel the motivation to set aside time and energy for it. In the end I just carry on.

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