Challenges & Choices: Finding mental health services in Ontario
One in five people in Ontario has a mental health problem at some point in his or her life. Only about 30 per cent of these people seek any kind of help. There are several reasons for this. People may not recognize that they have a problem. They may not know what kind of help is available. Or they may know what exists but not be able to use the services because of barriers, such as cost, language and transportation. And they may have difficulty finding what they want when there is a wide range of services, and no one place to access them. In some cases, there won't be the right services nearby for their specific concerns.
Still others may know they have a problem but don't seek help because of the stigma (prejudice and discrimination) attached to mental health problems. They feel embarrassed or ashamed. They worry about being discriminated against. They worry that they will be judged, misunderstood and perhaps left out because of their difficulties. When people feel discriminated against, it's harder for them to seek help. Sometimes they don't acknowledge a problem for which they could get treatment. This is unfortunate because there are services that can help. And the earlier someone gets help, the less chance there is of the problem coming back or getting worse.
Challenge: The fear of being discriminated against for having a mental health problem may be preventing you from seeking help. For instance, you may fear that someone will deny you services, not include you or treat you differently if they know you have a mental health problem.
Suggestions: Mental health providers have to keep your personal information confidential: expect privacy from them. Telephone help lines and self-help groups are examples of some of the confidential services available.
Consider confiding in someone you feel that you can trust. This person should understand your situation and be willing to support you. How you communicate what you are experiencing is your choice. Some people believe that to reduce stigma or prejudice against people with mental health problems, it's important to talk about the challenges they face openly. But some people have been discriminated against because they openly talk about their challenges in the workplace or in other social situations.
While you don't want to create stigma by hiding a mental health problem, sometimes it's important to protect yourself. For instance, if you live in a small town, you may want to consider using a mental health agency or hospital somewhere else.
Mental health problems are common. So if you are experiencing difficulties, know that you are not alone.
You can feel better, and you may even fully recover. But mental health problems can take time to work through. It's important to focus on your abilities and strengths. Allow yourself opportunities to heal.
Finding your way around the mental health system can be confusing, frustrating, scary--and difficult. That's why we've created this guide. In it, we tell you the basics about the most common mental health problems. We give information about the services available--from hospital treatment to community support. We explain a bit about the kinds of people who provide the care. And we summarize mental health laws, so that you will know your rights and how you can make best use of the system.
For family and friends who want to help but don't know how, this guide outlines ways they can access the system for you. In the process, they can learn how to take care of themselves as well.
Take charge of your situation by being actively involved in your care. When you meet with a health care provider or go to a certain agency, decide whether the support they offer is what you want and need. Help to shape your treatment by suggesting what has worked for you in the past. If you're not happy with the services offered, let them know. You can also suggest how the services could be improved. If it's possible, you might want to find services somewhere else.
Question: Isn't it easier to just work out my problems on my own?
Answer: That's like saying you can deal with a heart condition or any other physical problem without help from a doctor. Mental health problems are as valid a reason as physical health problems for getting help. Without support or treatment, mental health problems can get worse. Looking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. It shows that you know there is a problem and are taking steps to address it.
Knowledge is power
You may know that you have a problem but not know exactly what it is. Recognizing a problem is the first step toward solving it. The next step is to find the kind of services that will best meet your needs.
Start by getting as much information as you can about your symptoms and the supports available to help you. The more you know, the better decisions you will make. And the more power and control you will have to deal with the situation. Keep in mind that you might have to go to various sources before you find the information you need.
Getting information you need may mean:
- talking to people you know
- going to a public library
- going through the phone book and finding a mental health agency or clinic that you can call (See Appendix B for a list of organizations in Ontario that deal with mental health problems.
- going to a bookstore and looking in the health/self-help section
- checking the Internet: you can search the Internet by using key words like "mental health," "psychotherapy" or "mental illness." You can also type in the kind of problem you want to know more about plus "services." (Keep in mind that not all information on the Internet is correct.) In Appendix B, we include some recommended Web sites. (If you don't have a computer or access to the Internet, public libraries or community agencies often do.)
- going to educational groups or sessions organized through support or self-help groups, hospitals, community agencies or other organizations. These groups can help you recognize and learn how to manage mental health problems or better understand a mental health issue. Through the process, you can talk about how it feels to live and cope with a new diagnosis or difficulty. Talking openly about your feelings will often help you deal with the situation better. It will also help you decide on a treatment plan that makes sense to you.
You should be aware that the mental health system in North America tends to be based on what is referred to as the "medical model." The medical model tends to see a mental health problem as an illness or disease requiring medication and/or psychotherapy. Medication is used to change biochemical processes in the brain that are believed to contribute to the mental health problem.
There is a gradual move toward a more community-based psychosocial rehabilitation model. This is a model that helps people who have a mental health problem gain or relearn skills they need to live in the community and cope with their difficulties. It addresses a variety of areas, including housing, basic skills training, employment and social supports and living skills (e.g., cooking, shopping, budgeting, using transportation).
Challenge: There is a shortage of services in languages other than English.
Suggestions: Find out if the agency has cultural interpreters. Or bring someone with you who can interpret. Check to see if they have information pamphlets and phone lines in different languages.
You may also want to seek spiritual support from someone in your own community, such as a spiritual adviser who speaks the same language as you and understands your culture.
Challenges & Choices: Finding Mental Health Services in Ontario