Psychiatric disorders can cause a multitude of problems that would be very difficult for a person without a psychiatric disorder to deal with. If you have a psychiatric disorder, it is even worse.
I have a friend who like me has bipolar disorder and primarily gets depressed. Let us call her Margaret. Five years ago, Margaret lost her job because her psychiatric disorder made it impossible. She had unemployment for a while so she could keep her apartment, but that soon ended and she was evicted from her apartment. Eventually her mental health agency provided housing (called a “pod”) for her but she still struggled to get by because her only income was food stamps. She couldn’t afford toilet paper. Her mental health agency provided her with a monthly bus pass as long as she attended groups. Vocational Rehabilitation told her to focus on her care and not on finding work. She applied for Social Security Disability and was turned down five times.
Several months ago, Margaret qualified for Section 8 Housing and was able to move out of the “pod” she hated into an apartment. This was good, but not all was good. Margaret had been going to groups for ten years and had grown tired and bored of groups so she stopped going so then she had no monthly bus pass. Her therapist moved away and she, thinking she had learned enough, did not ask for a new one. The only support she has at the mental health agency is a busy case manager and a person who provides peer support. She has an Obama phone which gives her 250 minutes a month, but she often finds herself on hold which eats up her minutes so she can’t “waste” her minutes calling people for support. Section 8 gives her $20 a month for electricity but her electric bill is always higher so she was unable to pay all of her electric bill. Eventually her electricity was cut off so she found herself isolated in a dark apartment unable to cook.
It is not surprising that, this past month, Margaret became depressed and afraid to leave her apartment. She is having suicidal thoughts and became sick one night when she took too much of a medication in a suicide attempt. It was a couple days later that Margaret called me with hardly any minutes left on her phone. I picked her up on Saturday and took her out for lunch so she could eat something warm instead of peanut butter sandwiches. She had lost 20 pounds, which was good in a way but not the way it happened. We talked for three hours. She was afraid to let her case manager know what was happening because she didn’t want to be forced to go into the hospital.
I told Margaret that, even though she had suicidal thoughts and had a plan, that here, in our city, she wouldn’t be forced into a hospital if she had no means to kill herself or intent. I told her that, when I have suicidal thoughts, I give my medicine bottles to my daughter and keep only my weekly pillbox so I remain safe and can stay out of the hospital. I finally convinced her to talk to her case manager, have a walk-in appointment with her psychiatrist, give her medication to her case manager and begin to see a new therapist. I told her I would take her in on Monday so she could do those things. In the meantime, I held her medication. I told her that one thing good about having bipolar disorder was that moods cycle and she won’t always be so depressed. Still, who knows how much of her depression is due to her bipolar disorder and how much is due to her circumstances?
On Monday, I took Margaret to the case management site, and she saw her psychiatrist and case manager. She handed over her medication and was given weekly refills at the pharmacy. She asked for a referral to a therapist and found out when the therapist walk-in hours are. I then took her to get a low-income monthly bus pass and paid for 250 minutes on her phone. I realize this is a temporary fix.
Margaret can’t work. She can’t even look for work. She will be pushing it to leave her apartment to see a therapist and to get her weekly medication. 250 minutes on a phone are not very many minutes. Margaret will still be mainly isolated in a dark apartment eating peanut butter sandwiches. There has got to be more help and support for people who face such circumstances. What she is going through is just not right, and she is not the only one who struggles like this.