Why does accessing mental health care still have to be a struggle for someone like me?
The other night I found myself jarred out of my sleep at 2 a.m. again crying and terrified from the nightmares. I quietly got in the shower and tried to wash everything away trying to ground myself in the present, an automatic routine I’ve done for the past 20 years even before I knew what the words trauma and PTSD meant. As I got back in bed, I was angry and concerned that I haven’t had much luck locating adequate mental health treatment resources. As a biracial black transgender man with multiple disabilities, including high functioning autism, chronic illness, complex PTSD, and depression, it’s far from easy. I’ve been searching for months, especially as I’m struggling with major life transitions, stress, a racial pandemic, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The struggle to locate equitable and supportive mental health therapy and resources as a person who belongs to multiple marginalized groups in a world leaves me often feeling like I was made wrong. This is especially when I am seeking help in a western society that is not equitable for minorities and has a lack of a holistic whole-person approach. Wow, even now thinking about this, the words of diagnosis and knowing what support I am looking for mixed with how far I have come in advocating for myself reminds me of how in many ways navigating accessing quality mental health care and resources is just as hard as it was 17 years ago when I was thrown into the system without any awareness or understanding.
Each day, I am thankful I made it here to another moment. Each day, I wonder if the coming of age in the mental health system contributed to the progression in my neurodegenerative disease and recent diagnoses of young-onset dementia. I have worked on lessening how hard I am on myself and acknowledging that even when I was coming of age, I was still fighting for my health and my life – just in a system that unfortunately did more hard to me than good. Even from that first terrifying encounter 17 years ago my freshman year of college away from home: My dorm room door was broken down by the police, handcuffed, put in a cop car and dropped off in the emergency room, handcuffed to a bed and rolled down to the adult psychiatric unit 3 months after my 18th birthday with no identification, separated from my family, and committed to the psychiatric unit for the next week that set the path for what would come next.
The roller coaster ride of a different kind began. A roller coaster that would take me 14 years to get off and still leaves me fighting the impact today. I traded in my hopes and dreams for weekly doctor appointments, therapy, group therapy, support groups, cycling through different combinations of antidepressants, antianxiety, mood-stabilizing, and antipsychotics medications. When counted in my file, it added up to 38 psychotropic medications in 7 years. The physical and cognitive impact related to side effects and adverse interactions with my neurodegenerative disease were endless and required more therapies, doctors, medications, and assistance with swallowing, speech and using mobility assistance devices. I felt like I wasn’t getting an equitable chance at life or treatment. No one, including me, seem to have the awareness or knowledge of how my disabilities, my marginalized identities, and my trauma and sexual assaults played a roll in how I struggled to access the right support in the mental health system. I was declining instead of healing and thriving. The whole process left me feeling like I wasn’t made in a way that could be helped; that I was a mistake and that I would never find a way to get better.
It wasn’t until the Fall of 2016 when I was given a resource for a trauma-informed outpatient therapist who was LGBTQIA+ affirming and could understand my marginalized identities that I could begin a different path more aligned with holistic health, transformation, and connection to my authentic self. I started gaining a better understanding of who I was as a person and how my differing abilities and my past trauma impacted my overall interactions, health, and living. I also began to see how this interacted with other parts of who I am as a person, and how these parts made up the whole of who I am engaging with the world around me and trying to access support. Over time I not only discovered what self-advocacy was but also became my best advocate.
In becoming my own best advocate I discovered ableism and intersectionality was something I have always navigated in different was daily including in different spaces, school, predominately white communities, with mental health resources and health care access. I have just scratched the surface of the layers of navigating ableism and intersectionality within an ableist society within the mix of racism, sexism, transphobia and homophobia, and more that is also deeply embedded in the institutions and branches of systems that serve the society I live in, including the mental health system.
I have seen the growth of income-based resources, cultural proficiency training, trauma-informed training for health practitioners, and the importance of creating an affirming environment that has occurred. However, I also know there is still a long way to make mental health care more equitable and accessible for minorities, especially minorities that belong to more than one marginalized community like me. The first step in addressing and removing the barriers that exist in accessing quality mental health care related to ableism, intersectionality, and accessibility for minorities and marginalized communities is to acknowledge these barriers exist in the first place. It can’t be addressed until we see it as an issue that needs to be addressed both within our own communities and broader communities and institutions we exist, interact, work, live, and receive services in.
Below is a list of some of the resources I have used since the Fall of 2016 connected to finding income-based resources, and providers with cultural proficiency training, trauma-informed training and equity, inclusion, and affirming spaces that are a part of their environment and service delivery/programming.
Did you enjoy this story? Subscribe to our weekly newsletter to find out when new stories are published.
Learn how to join our Writers Cohort here.
Want to continue building community? Download our iOS app.