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'Finally, I have an appointment with a psychologist... 294 days after being discharged from the hospital'

Nine and a half months for an appointment? I, like many others with varying medical issues, have been failed by the very system that I have been contributing to.

Natalie Marr Mental health activist at goneonfortoolong.com

IN RECENT MONTHS, the people of Ireland have been vocal in their criticisms of the various taxes and charges that we are subject to. Motor tax, property tax, PRSI, USC and the highly contentious water charge, to name but a few. Many of the stories reported in TheJournal.ie have been to do with these taxes and charges, and many also to do with mental health.

As conscious as I am that my story is just one of many out there, I feel the need to share it.

On Tuesday the 2nd of this month, I received a letter in the post from Beaumont Hospital. The letter was advising me that I have an appointment with a consultant psychologist on January 29th 2015. This pertains to a visit I made to Beaumont Hospital in April of this year. At this point I would like to make note that those medical professionals treating me during my time in Beaumont Hospital were fabulous. They were making the best of seemingly long working hours and an overcrowded Emergency Department. I could not find fault with them.

The letter arrived a total of 237 days since I was discharged from the hospital and the appointment is scheduled for exactly 294 days since.

Also on the Tuesday, I received my most recent fortnightly payslip. This payslip shows that I have earned just over €17k this year. Out of that amount, I have paid a little more than €1,200 solely on USC. I do realise that there are many people out there who have paid a whole lot more than this. For me, this is quite a lot of money. I am a recent graduate and my current job is a casual one, with a seasonal tour company.

Seizures

Back in April, I presented to the hospital with epilepsy-like seizures, which had been occurring on a regular basis since January of this year. After one particular assessment (there had been quite a few up to that point), my GP advised me to go straight to hospital, as the seizures had been getting longer and more frequent.

After 27 hours, blood tests, a CAT scan and an EKG, it was established that I was suffering from dissociative seizures (read more here), most likely caused by stress.

Looking back, this is not surprising. I was working in a job full-time that I was not suited to, was trying to complete a master’s degree, and worrying – as I have always had a tendency to do – about what I can do with my life that can make the lives of others a little bit better. Sometimes it is a curse being a ‘save the world’ type!

However at the time that I was told this, it came as a huge shock to me. It is hard to describe the devastation that I felt. I assumed (wrongly) that suffering from these seizures made me a weak person, meant that I was a failure. I still struggle with these thoughts on occasion. I became very distressed, so much so that the doctors were concerned for my welfare and discussed admitting me to the psychiatric ward for the night. Thankfully, after managing to calm me down somewhat and talking to the psychiatrist on call, my wonderful boyfriend managed to convince them that I would be safe in his hands. We went home, with the advice that I would receive a letter in the post with an appointment to see the consultant psychologist, to help me to deal with my situation.

This is the letter that I received last Tuesday.

Private psychiatric help

In the intervening time, I was admitted to a private psychiatric hospital at a cost of €400 per night because of suicidal ideation. This was very shortly after my trip to Beaumont and was directly related to my inability to cope with the feelings that I had ’caused the seizures myself’. After my release, I quit my job and moved back home to my parents. I went back to my old job (the tour company mentioned earlier) part time.

It was a huge struggle (not just for me, for those close to me also), but I submitted my dissertation in August and graduated with a 2:1 in early November.

Throughout this time, I was attending a psychiatrist on a monthly basis (€150 per session) in relation to medications and a psychologist on a weekly basis (€80 per session) who has been helping me learn coping mechanisms to better deal with stress.

These past seven months have been a significant financial undertaking. Without private medical insurance and financial help from my parents, I would not have been able to receive all of this medical attention. I reflect on my fortunate position regularly. I know there are many out there who are not as fortunate.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that, without this medical attention, there is a high chance that I would not be here writing this today. You may think this sounds dramatic, but it is the truth. There have been numerous occasions on which a loved one – my parents, my boyfriend, close friends, even my current employer (who has been wonderful, both in reemploying me and handling the emotional mess that she took back on) – has had to talk me down from strong feelings of wanting to maim or kill myself.

Failed by the system we contribute to

With the help of the private medical professionals, and of my loved ones, I am still here. Working five days a week since finishing college (since the age of 16 I have worked at least a part time job), paying all my taxes and other charges. Paying €1,200 in USC. For what? It has done nothing for me. Nine and a half months for an appointment? I, like many others with varying medical issues, have been failed by the very system that I have been contributing a significant amount of my hard earned wages to.

What strikes a chord with me is that, compared to some other people’s stories, nine and a half months isn’t actually all that long.

It has been said many times before that our health system – which we contribute to partly through payment of USC – is a fractured one. The worst thing about this is that it is fracturing people’s lives in the process.

Natalie Marr is a recent master’s graduate and current employee of Viking Splash Tours, where she is ‘fondly’ known as Natalie the Noxious.

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About the author:

Natalie Marr  / Mental health activist at goneonfortoolong.com

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