Elizabeth Elliott: Put patients first in clinic takeover - The Buffalo News

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Elizabeth Elliott: Put patients first in clinic takeover

I am 51 years old. I was diagnosed with depression in my early 20s but have exhibited symptoms since I was 5. If it’s hard to believe a 5-year-old can have depression, consider this: at about that age I developed an imaginary friend named Mary. She didn’t like me. Sometimes I thought she was mean, but usually I just thought she was right not to like me.

My depressive symptoms have always consisted of feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, fatigue, muscle aches, excessive sleep or insomnia, and an inability to concentrate and remember things. Who could like someone like that?

I began going in and out of treatment when I was first diagnosed, but didn’t hit the magic combination of good therapist and effective medication until I was in my mid-30s.

However, to this day my medication can stop working without warning and send me into a tailspin. Once I started crying uncontrollably in the boardroom at my job because my pills had inexplicably become ineffectual.

On the other hand, my therapist has always been there for me. I have had a number of them over the years, only four of whom I could trust and work well with. My current counselor helps me out of the black hole of depression, teaches me coping skills and encourages the little victories I can’t see or feel. But that vital and healing relationship is being threatened.

I’m a client at Buffalo General Hospital’s Mental Health & Chemical Dependency Services clinic at 1010 Main St. The clinic was taken over by Erie County Medical Center on Oct. 11. I’m not sure I’m going to be able to continue with my therapist. She doesn’t know if she’ll have a job. The Office of Mental Health says that because two unions are involved, the therapists formerly employed at the clinic will have to reapply for their jobs. Several counselors have received letters that state they’re unqualified for the jobs they’ve been doing, some for decades. I assure you my counselor is qualified. She has a master’s degree in social work, more than 20 years of experience and a schedule jam-packed with satisfied clients.

I’ve been told that some individuals involved in the process feel that as long as patients have access to some kind of help, they’ll be OK. I beg to differ. The relationship between a patient and his or her counselor is one of the most delicate in the medical profession. You have to trust this person enough to tell them about your deepest fears and your most traumatic experiences.

Many of these recollections produce shame, though unwarranted, which causes clients to put off reaching out for help for many years. This can often cause damage beyond the original trauma.

Add to that the social stigma of mental illness – and even the stigma of reaching out for help – and you have a recipe for disaster.

I’m not saying there’s another Navy Yard shooter or Newtown assassin in our midst. However, I am saying that mental health issues are distressing and complicated, for sufferers and their families. Obtaining and maintaining proper mental health treatment with a trusted therapist shouldn’t be.

Whoever is responsible for the folderol and foot dragging affecting the takeover should stop this. A mind truly is a terrible thing to waste.

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