Just a quick note on why and how I ended up hospitalized for mental illness:

When my depression became severe, I knew I needed help; my family knew I needed help; and because of the medical aspects of the disease, my doctor should have known I needed help.  (But that’s another story altogether.)

I was too far down to seek outside help, so when my doctor didn’t come through, I gave up—but my family didn’t.  They used the resources available to them to try to find help for the mentally ill in the Greater Binghamton area.  My wife and daughter are both health care professionals, so their resources were far better than the average.

What they found was that the normal wait to get an appointment to see a psychiatrist or counselor in the area was measured in weeks and months, not days.  When they explained my situation to the various offices they contacted, the common response was, “Go to the crisis center.  They can evaluate the patient and get an earlier appointment.”

So I went to the crisis center, expecting to be evaluated and then sent home with an appointment to see a mental health specialist.  Instead, I was kept overnight as an out-patient, and then admitted to the mental health ward of the hospital, where I remained for a week.  During that time, I saw two different doctors (once each) and a nurse practitioner (three or four times).  I had three meetings with a psychotherapist.  All in all, the in-patient treatment was a good jumpstart toward recovery.

However, as I understood it, it would be vital to follow up with further care immediately upon discharge from the hospital.  The professionals at the hospital would line me up with appointments and resources to keep my recovery on track.  It was suggested that I should receive counseling or group therapy sessions a couple of times per week at first, to be decreased as appropriate.

You can imagine my surprise, then, when I was given my discharge papers showing my first mental health appointment being scheduled for two weeks down the road.  When I protested that such late follow-up contradicted what I had been led to expect I would need, I heard the same old story:  there are few mental health specialists in the area; a lot of established patients who fill their schedules; and it takes weeks or months for a new patient to get in.  The appointment for two weeks in the future was the earliest that even the hospital could arrange for me.  (The option of group therapy has never been brought up again.)

Once I had a professional who had agreed to see me, my family and their contacts were able to get my appointment moved up to within a few days, and my treatment has been ongoing regularly since then.  But my experience highlights a real need in the community:        

  • With two major health care provider networks in the community, there is only one crisis center for mentally ill patients;
  • The psychiatric center itself has a waiting list, and only the most severe patients can get in;
  • The hospital’s unit is staffed in part by traveling doctors, who spend a few days in Binghamton and then move on and are not available to follow up with patients;
  • Some of the hospital beds were taken up by people involuntarily committed by the justice system after alcohol-related incidents;  in one case I witnessed, the “patient” openly admitted that he was just biding his time until he could get legal discharge and go get his next drink;
  • Insurance companies dictate the length of medically-necessary hospitalizations, and the hospital staff has only limited ability to extend a patient’s stay;
  • If there are other resources available to sufferers of mental illness, that information is not being given to patients prior to admission or upon discharge.         

I am not criticizing the crisis center, the hospital, or any of those good people who helped get me started on the road to recovery.  I AM grieved that the community which was recently reported as the most depressing city in America does not have enough resources available to meet the needs.  I don’t have the answer, or even any reasonable suggestions toward solving the problem—but maybe somebody else does.  I hope that between our existing hospitals, private providers, colleges, and other community groups we can accomplish two things:

    1. To make more mental health resources available; and
    2. To publicize the ones that exist already.

My blog posts have connected me with dozens of fellow sufferers.  May each one find the help they need to achieve recovery—despite the apparent shortages and shortcomings in our community’s mental health services.

Addendum:  As a result of a friend reading this post and contacting some of her acquaintances, I was sent a document listing services available to those suffering from mental health issues.  I include that document as a link:

BC Counseling 111711