Saturday, February 10, 2018

On Free Meds and Mental Health Care

Perfect timing.

My son just finished telling me about his trip to our family doctor in which he tried but failed to get a form filled out that will enable our benefits to cover his ridiculously expensive drugs, when I came across this post on my Twitter feed from the perspicacious Jenny Lawson:

I don't usually rant on social media. I save it for this blog where there's more room to clarify the issues in carefully worded posts. But I was just jazzed enough to fire off this whiney retweet:

We were all so excited that everyone under 25 gets their prescription drugs for free that we missed the fine print: Only generic drugs are covered. As a teacher, people keep telling me I have amazing benefits, except they won't cover brand name drugs either. BUT all you need to do is get your doctor to fill in a form saying the brand name is necessary. Which would be great except the psychiatrist won't fill in the form because, in order to sign his name to it in good faith, he would have to KNOW that the brand name drug is necessarily better than the generic. He can't do that without seeing the effects of it. WE saw the effects when the family doctor tried them, and WE can attest to the fact that the brand name work significantly better, but the psychiatrist has to see it with his own eyes.

Thus a trip to the family doctor was required. She can't legally prescribe this strength of meds needed, which is why we're shuffling back and forth to a psychiatrist in the first place (since they seem pretty useless for anything except dispensing meds), but the family doc KNOWS about the problems taking the generic version. But, instead of just signing the form saying "Yes please!" to the brand name meds, she sent a prescription to the pharmacy for a quick-dissolve version of the same drug, which, of course, also isn't covered.

What. The. F*ck.

Believe me, switching drugs, even just slightly modified versions, back and forth takes forever to manage and get to a point where you can have a reasonably normal day again. It's terrifying. Mental illness is a shit show, and back here, as much as I believe that we can't compare our suffering, I even went so far as to suggest it's worse that having cancer and lymphedema wrapped together in a bow. It's so much worse.
I just got through a year of cancer and surgeries and developing a affliction to be managed daily forever and coping with the death of my dad, and none of that was as difficult as watching my kid struggle to collect the courage to leave the house and make it through each day. Anxiety is a BUGGER! It's a devastating, crippling condition that saps the energy and voids the spirit. Between classes, my school day is punctuated with texts home to "Get yer ass outta bed!" and "It's okay if you're late, just go now!!" often ending with "Who cares if there's only an hour left of class, just get out the door!!" And then I get home and flood the place with compassion. My parental role is to push and comfort, push and comfort. It can be a feat of strength to struggle with a problem that I can't actively fix or soothe, and sometimes it gets the better of me. When it's a bad day, if there wasn't an obvious issue, like a forgotten pill, we scramble for the cause: dairy? bread? eggs? How I wish it were food-related! Maybe it's some sad news from somewhere else in the world? remembering a past event? something?? But the reality is, the cause is typically not findable. And then another day is great, and that doesn't make sense either. You can track all their eating and sleeping and thinking until all the ink in the world dries up, and sometimes it's just nothing. It just is.
Everybody forwards those Bell Let's Talk posts once a year, and yet somehow we still can't solve this conundrum. We all seem to agree that mental health is paramount to our society, right? but effective medication isn't covered, and under my very generous benefits we can see a therapist only about once a month. Or, if things are bad, she gets a visit every third day for a month, and then not again for another year. And then we have to go on the waiting list again, which can take yet another stretch of forever. Cognitive behavioural therapy sessions that help people get out of bed each day can run you about $200/hour. Coping with profound anxiety or depression, even with a generous benefits package, and even in Canada, can cost someone over a grand each month. Like Jenny Lawson says further down the thread on her tweet, thank god I can afford to do something. But it shouldn't be a matter of the rich get help and the poor suffer. That's not what we signed up for in this progressive country of ours. And isn't it so incredibly embarrassing when we have the same problems as in the land of Trump?!?

One more visit to the doctor in another month (the earliest we can get in), with yet another form, to try again to sort it all out. It might be the case that I can never retire - not for the benefits, obviously, but for the cash. We need drugs and life-saving therapies to be part of our health care. Period.

(P.S. My son gave me explicit permission to write about his issues because, "Nobody actually reads your blog," so if you've read this, then DO write to Wynne and your MPP and Hon Eric Hoskins, MPP about this problem, but maybe pretend you didn't hear it from me!)


karen said...

I'm so sorry that you are going through this. I'm a BC resident, so my input will not likely matter to the Ontario government, but I will look into it here and write to my MLA and MP (But I didn't read this and I'm not finally stirred to action because of you).

I haven't experienced cancer or even serious illness first hand, so I don't know if anxiety and depression and other mental health issues are worse, but I suspect you are right. Cancer, heart disease, lung disorders, diabetes - the existence of these is testable and provable, which then means there is an actual course of treatment to follow. But we don't have any idea what causes anxiety or depression, and I think treatments are all just scattershot. (I personally think that depression and anxiety are directly caused by modern civilization and society - and that they are in fact the proper response to all that is so wrong with the way we have ordered life.)

I have seen how difficult it is to stop taking some medications. Doctors must know how difficult it is to stop taking them. It seems irresponsible (and maybe dangerous?) to be messing around with versions of medications.

I hope you get it sorted out. All the best to you and your son.

Marie Snyder said...

Thanks, Karen. Somehow, one way or another, this too shall pass.