The only way to access the mental health services through my care provider is by phone. For someone like me who: a. hates making phone calls, b. hates asking for help, c. already has a slightly irrational distrust of therapy, and d. hates crying in front of strangers; this presents an obstacle of significant proportions.

My mood has been low enough for long enough that I finally deemed it time to explore my options for getting help. Being off social media for the past four weeks has been very isolating, and I’ve struggled with an internal echo chamber of frustration, self doubt, paranoia, and hopelessness. If you think the Facebook echo chamber is bad, try sitting alone with the persecuting voices in your head telling you that nobody likes you, you’re not good enough, you’ll never amount to anything, and everybody is laughing at you behind your back for four weeks. Even the Russians aren’t that cruel.

So I was seeking help. Having to do this by way of phone call meant that I had to strike a very delicate balance between my mood being just-bad-enough-for-help-to-be-necessary and not-so-bad-that-I’d-break-down-in-tears-on-the-phone. Which for me is a very narrow margin indeed, but I thought I’d struck it on Monday after walking to the bus after work. I looked up the number, took a deep breath, and dialed.

“Thank you for calling the Behavioral Health Services Department. Our offices are now closed. Please call back during business hours. If this is an emergency, please hang up and go to the nearest emergency room.”

I waited to hear if there was more. The message repeated itself in Spanish, but failed to tell me the hours during which it would be convenient for me to have issues with my mental health.

I hung up.

The next day, I waited until a slow moment at work to try again, shutting myself in the conference room to avoid being overheard.

I took a deep breath. I dialed.

“Thank you for calling the Behavioral Health Services Department. To continue in English press one.”

I pressed one.

“For directions and hours, press one. To refill a prescription, press two. To speak with a call center agent, press three.” There was a pause and the menu began to repeat itself: that was it. Those were my only three options. Did I want a call center agent? I didn’t know. It sounded like tech support. I pressed three expecting to be told to try shutting down my brain and turning it back on again.


The woman who answered sounded harried and annoyed and spoke in a rapid monotone over a bad connection. She didn’t give a name or ask for mine.

“Um, sorry? Say again?” I asked.

“Can I have your medical number?”

It was technically a question but her tone made it clear she gave exactly zero shits whether I gave it to her or not. I didn’t have my wallet with me, and it wasn’t a number I knew off the top of my head. I wasn’t even sure if I’d called the right line.

“Um.” I said again. “Is this the right number for mental health?” I asked, my voice already wavering.


“How do I, um, get help.” I said.

“I need your medical number.” She said again. She was on the downhill slope from zero shits to zero fucks and was gaining momentum the longer I kept her on the line.

“I’ll have to look it up.” I managed around a cracking voice. “I’ll call back.”

I hung up.

What had I expected? I asked myself, back at my desk and trying to keep the tears from eroding my makeup. Someone nice? Someone to hold your hand and tell you it’s all going to be ok? A kind voice explaining your options in sympathetic tones, maybe?

Well, yes actually.

Or maybe a menu of options: if you’re experiencing depression, press one. If you’re experiencing OCD, press seven thirteen times. If you’re hearing voices this one is coming from a phone. Etc. Frankly I would have been a BILLION times happier doing all of this online.

And what if I truly hadn’t been in my right mind? I was depressed but not delusional: but what if I’d needed more than just a little mood help? This was the state of my options for mental health care? I could tell my deepest vulnerabilities to Thelma-of-the-DMV and hope for the best, I could go to the Emergency Room to the tune of ten grand, or I could white-knuckle it until I broke with reality and decided to pack it all in and go live under an overpass. I wasn’t seeing a lot of gray area.

I haven’t called back yet. I will, but I’m still too angry about yesterday to strike that mental balance needed to function on the phone.

~ by Gwydhar Gebien on April 17, 2019.

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