Accessing therapy

Can I hear an AMEN if you’ve ever had the most difficult time trying to find a specialist, then book an appointment with them? I love being Canadian and Medicare is one of the first reasons why, but the system can be cruel. I’ve come across a lot of people who don’t even know where to start finding a therapist. It’s not as easy as searching “psychiatrist”, “psychologist”, or “CBT therapy”.

First you need to understand English and know how to use a computer. Umm hello, Toronto and its surrounding neighbourhoods are packed with immigrants.
… Plus there is a shortage of family doctors in case you want an easy peasy referral from them.
… Then you have to sift through an encyclopedia of people and hope that you’ll be a decent match – it’s very similar to dating.
… Then you have to compare prices, especially if you don’t have insurance. It can really add up if you need to go every week.
… And if money isn’t sufficient because you’re out of work, there’s usually a long waitlist for a therapist who is covered by OHIP or significantly cheaper.
The break up is also really awkward when you realize you don’t have a connection with them or they’re not helpful to you. I never knew what the right thing to say was. Example: it was great meeting you but you don’t have what I need… awkward.
… Then repeat the above, with the bonus of retelling your whole story again at your next consultation appointment.
Oh, don’t even get me started about therapy programs. The waitlist is usually huge and the dates and times aren’t flexible at all.
All I hope for is to find group therapy with a schedule like gym classes! You can go to Goodlife or wherever and choose from a generous list of class times.

What. The Heck.

I’ll get to the part about how to access the system soon but I need to make one point first. If you haven’t experienced the struggle first hand or through someone you know, hear me out to have a better picture of what reality is like. Then maybe you’ll join our bandwagon and help advocate for improved access to care.

Before I attempted to commit suicide two years ago, I tried to see a psychiatrist because my depression was increasingly worse. I was extremely suicidal to the point where I had to take a sick leave from work. I went to my family doctor and received a referral.

I called the psychiatrist’s office, where I was told that it would take 3 months. I asked, “3 months for what?” …it was going to take 3 months for the nurse to assess me, then another 3 months to actually see a psychiatrist. So really 6 months before I could receive the help I needed.

I cringed and said, “I don’t think I’ll make it by then. I’m extremely suicidal and I want to die. I don’t have a plan right now but I’m so depressed. I’m going to kill myself soon.” This woman responded to my cry for help by making an appointment to see a psychiatrist a week later.

Most Canadians are more polite than that and would probably just say, “Oh. Okay. Sorry for bothering you. I understand. So sorry. Au revoir.” Being sick is draining and maybe you feel below par and weak compared to everyone else so why argue. Well, no matter what anyone says, your mental health challenges are real. You deserve all the help that you need. Be honest and persevere. I was desperate in that moment and “no” wasn’t an acceptable answer.

Now moving forward. The easiest way to see a therapist is to ask your family doctor for a referral. However, be aware that they’ve got their own list of people they trust and believe are “intelligent” and “experienced”. Everyone’s needs are unique so don’t feel discouraged if they aren’t a good fit for you, but if this is the way to go if you want something simple. I have never had success from this so I’ve always done my own homework and found therapists this way.

Here are my top mental health search engines If you want to look for yourself.

Psychology Today is my favourite for anyone in Canada or the US.
(+) It’s easy to navigate
(+) Includes therapists,
psychiatrists, and support groups all in one hub
Their database is huge and a lot of their profiles say the same thing but at least you have options
(-) Average rates in Toronto are about $80-100/session, which is usually covered if you have private insurance is also great for my fellow Canadians.
(+) Includes therapists, psychiatrists, and support groups for both individuals and family members
(+) Many of their options are covered by OHIP
(+/-) Their database is huge
(-) OHIP can = waiting list

Like the name suggests, Mood Disorders Association of Ontario (MDAO) is based in Ontario.
(+) A fantastic resource for individual and family support groups
(+) There is an online support forum
(-) Does not have a database for therapists

Last but not least, there is alwaaaays Reddit.
(+) Anonymous and stay-in-bed friendly
(+) Most users are friendly
(+) Individual and family/friend support threads available ex: “bipolar2” or “bipolarSOs”
(+) Self directed care so you can always take a break to look at cute cat and dog videos when you get frustrated with the whole process
(-) No database for therapists or support groups but you can always ask for suggestions in the forum!

Lastly, I’d like to apologize on behalf of all the terrible health care professionals you have encountered. So, so sorry.

I’ve had my own fair share of run ins with Toronto emergency rooms. I wish I had more advice on how to cheat the system and access the mental health services that you need more quickly but I have no other shortcuts for you here. As if finding a boyfriend or girlfriend isn’t hard enough these days, the search for a psychotherapist or psychiatrist is equally depressing and disappointing. Some are as hopeless as the Tinder profiles you may have come across.

If you are currently feeling suicidal, please pick up the phone and call someone in your life.

If you can’t mutter any words through your shaky voice and dribbles of snot, dig deep and find the strength to say “help”. Dial 911 or visit your nearest emergency room. There is also to talk to someone immediately.

Even though I’m discrediting a lot of services, you are not alone at the end of the day and you should seek help no matter how annoying it might be. I hope this will kick start your journey to finding the help that you need. Please share more resources if you have any in the comments below! The more the merrier and sharing is caring 🙂


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