I’ve personally dealt with depression and anxiety issues for a long time; Along with that, addiction has played a major role in my life. For many years I didn’t want to admit that I had mental health issues, largely because I was self medicating to try to mask my problems but also because there is a major stigma surrounding the topic. People are afraid of admitting to others that they are experiencing issues such as depression because of the stigma that it carries within our culture. Many people believe that mental health issues don’t exist and that they are only an individual’s inability to cope with life, others look down on people suffering from these afflictions as if they are incapable or weak; The list goes on, but my point is that a large group of people negatively view people afflicted with mental health issues.
I finally realized that I needed to take action on my mental well-being a little over two years ago and first approached my primary care physician with my problems. He immediately prescribed me sertraline, an SSRI, but also tried to have a conversation with me about how God could heal these issues without the need of medical intervention. I continued seeing him until he had increased my dosage in increments to that which are typical for relieving depression symptoms. All the while I continued searching for another PCP because in my opinion, religion and scientific medicine do not mix.
I felt terrible for several weeks as my body acclimated to the medication. At about week 3, I experienced roughly one week of happiness like I hadn’t felt in a long time and relatively soon after that elation, I crashed and was left in the same mental state I had been prior to beginning the medication in the first place.
Needless to say, he didn’t remain my PCP for long. I found another PCP, one which I personally like a great deal and intend to keep seeing for the foreseeable future. She continued my sertraline regimen and I continued taking it for about 6 months without any improvement in my mental health; she also added bupropion to this regimen but it didn’t seem to do much either other than give me a little bit more energy. I eventually discontinued taking sertraline because after those six months, I felt worse off than I did before I started taking any medication at all. I continued taking bupropion alone for some time and then my doctor put me on another SSRI, citalopram. I took it for about 3 months, yet again with no benefit and eventually quit it as well.
I preface this article with this story because as many people have likely experienced, SSRI’s are typically the front-line treatment and general go-to for treating depression and anxiety. And unfortunately, many people suffering from depression end up going through multiple medications before they find one that actually works. I like to refer to this process as the “lets throw and see what will stick” approach of prescribing depression medication. The problem with this is that it can cause a great deal of distress to an individual trying to regain their mental health by putting them through months and sometimes years of terrible physical side-effects from beginning and ending new medications time after time. Along with this, it can cause a sense of doubt in the entire experience and generally leaves them feeling hopeless and worse off than they were before.
I currently take an SNRI, pristiq, along with bupropion; But this begins another story. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve struggled with drug addiction for a long time and a little over a year ago I accidentally got myself addicted to RC Benzo’s. I began taking etizolam because I was trying to lead a more sober life and I was desperate to improve my mental state. In the beginning it helped greatly with my anxiety, but once an addict always an addict. My dosages got out of control and when I realized what I had done to myself I tried to quit cold turkey, what ensued was three days of literal hell before I began taking it again because I was terrified of having seizures. My PCP was unaware of all of this because yet again, there is a major stigma regarding drug addiction; And I was too full of shame to tell anybody what I had gotten myself into. After doing a lot of research on benzodiazepine addiction and recovery I quit taking etizolam and replaced it with diclazepam. Diclazepam is basically valium but with 10 times the potency and it has a very long half-life which makes it perfect for getting off of short-lived benzo’s like etizolam. I devised my own taper program and took the first steps to ridding myself of my addiction on my own.
About 6 months ago, I came clean to my PCP after I finally realized that I had to get my life together and live a completely sober life. She didn’t want anything to do with assisting in my recovery and instead gave me a 3 page paper with contact info for psychiatrists in my area. I called every single one and left voicemail after voicemail; the few I actually got to speak with were booked out 3 months and to this date I still haven’t received a single call back from the voicemails I left. I couldn’t wait 3 months, I needed assistance right then. I was left feeling hopeless.
After a lot of digging I eventually found a small practice made up of independent counselors and one NPR-C. I began seeing a drug and addiction recovery counselor the next week after I spoke with him on the phone. I then also began seeing the private NPR-C within their clinic because she is very well versed in addiction and recovery, she was willing to help and has been my saving grace. While seeing her she had me take a DNA assay to help determine what medications my body tolerates and also to show if I had any mutations on receptor sites or primary enzyme sites that are utilized in breaking down virtually all medications prescribed for mental illness as well as other afflictions. This test is called the GENECEPT ASSAY by GENOMIND and I personally think it should be mandatory to perform before any doctor can prescribe medication for any mental health issues. My personal assay came back to show that my body did not tolerate any SSRI’s and if taking them I was at serious risk of having adverse side effects. It also showed that I had a double gene mutation that affected my body by not producing MTHFR, which is an enzyme responsible for the conversion of folic acid to methylfolate and is a cofactor needed for serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine synthesis in the body. No wonder I was always so depressed, tired, and anxious all the time. This is what led to me being prescribed an SNRI because my body tolerates it perfectly; Along with that she also prescribed me L-Methylfolate, as a way to bypass my naturally low production of MTHFR.
The only problem with this is that my insurance doesn’t cover any of it; it was all out-of-pocket expense. I make a decent wage but also live in a large, expensive city. At $130 per counseling visit twice a month and $195 to see the NPR-C once a month on top of the additional charges for my first time visit, as you can expect this left me very tapped out in my financial situation. I am able to manage these expenses, but it hasn’t been easy. Oh, and my insurance came back with a claim for me taking the DNA Assay and stated that it didn’t have any medical relevance and that they wouldn’t cover any of it; $3,850. I was furious because throughout my entire process of trying to regain my mental wellbeing, this test has been the most beneficial thing I’ve ever done. Fortunately, in the end GENOMIND only ended up billing me $300 for the entire test. After looking at their website it directly states that 99% of their patients will only pay $300 at max.
Now back to the original topic of this post, the mental healthcare field in America is in a vast shortage of medical professionals trained to assist with issues such as these; due to this it is almost impossible for an individual that needs immediate assistance to actually get it. Our healthcare system is also living 30 years in the past by not utilizing technology that is proven and scientifically backed. And when it comes to drug addiction recovery, a hospital or personal DR would rather push you out the door and refer you to services which aren’t attainable; Or they will push you towards in patient treatment; in which a sobering statistic shows that 40-60% of people whom enter a rehab facility will relapse back to some form of substance abuse.
Our mental healthcare system is broken for so many reasons, and I think primarily because it isn’t focused on the psychology and physiology of addiction and depression treatment. I got lucky and found a place that does focus on these things; But I can’t help but think, what about all those other people going through this. Those that live in areas in which these services aren’t readily available and especially the people who couldn’t afford to do it even if they had the access.