CW: This week’s newsletter discusses suicide and suicidal ideation.
I know spooky season is over, but I have one last scary story to tell: my psychiatrist ghosted me (and my partner) back in September. What’s scarier still is that this is not too uncommon an occurrence. According to a poll conducted by me—texting all my neurodivergent-ass besties in a panic a few months ago—a handful of my friends reported instances of being, both similarly and more severely, failed by a mental health professional at least once in each of their lives so far.
To be clear: ghosting does happen in patient-client relationships, often even. However, the ghoster is typically the patient. And while it isn’t particularly the most considerate or respectful way to terminate a relationship—especially one with a therapist—it isn’t deemed an ethical violation, at least not by your state’s licensing board, since you’re not the one with a license. There are formal steps therapists and other mental health professionals must take in order to discontinue a relationship with a client. Ghosting, in this regard, is not just unprofessional, it's dangerous.
Before we go over some steps you can take if you ever—goddess forbid—find yourself in a similar situation, I think we should revisit the signs that I chose to remain ignorant of from the beginning. Yes, this situation was making it rain red flags on me from the start, but your boy chose to ignore them because simply finding a psychiatrist that my scam of an insurance plan would actually cover had already taken me on a fucking rollercoaster. My partner used the same insurance and was also in need of psychiatric care, so we were thrilled to find someone in-network who was available. So much so that our desperation led us to making an appointment before even doing a simple Google search on the individual. If we would have, we'd have seen the almost eighty reviews begging prospective patients to STEER CLEAR OF THIS PSYCHIATRIST.
But I was young, naïve, and blinded by everyday panic.
Here are the red flags my instincts clocked, but those I chose to ignore because a homo needed his buspirone:
🚩 This person was so off-putting that I was actually anxious about talking to them.
I’m not asking for Mary Fucking Sunshine. I live, laugh, love by brooding, being a brood, and being brooded over. But if you seem to be visibly irritated by my mere existence—constantly interrupting me, sighing when I ask questions about taking a medication that will alter my brain chemistry, and/or just showing a general disinterest in my well-being—then perhaps you are in the wrong profession. One should not be made scared to talk to "a professional," who is literally being paid to listen, in order to make critical, informed decisions about the future of one's health and wellness.
🚩🚩 Making an appointment was a herculean effort.
Therapists and psychiatrists are fucking busy. I get that. Truly, I do. But making an appointment shouldn’t be like pulling teeth. The only way I could ever get a time slot with this person was to repeatedly call, text, and send email after email, increasing my urgency. And it didn’t help that there was no direct way of contacting this person, which brings me to…
🚩🚩🚩 Literally the worst assistant ever.
And that is coming from me, the original worst assistant ever. I invented the art of being unhelpful in a role of assistance. But my job wasn’t scheduling patients in need of critical mental health care. Instead of replying to emails requesting an appointment, this assistant would send a text that was about as formal as the texts I used to send to booty calls:
“r u available in an hour?”
Is literally a response I’ve received from this fakakta assistant. That is, if I ever even received a response at all.
🚩🚩🚩🚩 Being berated for missing an appointment once (when this person was always twenty minutes late—at least!—to every appointment).
One day I wasn’t feeling well! I live with chronic illness! This person knows this! I overslept! And missed my appointment! When I was finally able to reschedule—email, call, text, repeat—I was lectured (sternly!) about wasting this person's time…after they were thirty minutes late.
🚩🚩🚩🚩🚩 This person was impossible to reach.
This one goes hand-in-hand with how hard it was to make an appointment, but this became even more concerning when I needed my medications refilled. Now, I am someone who will “no worries” you till the cows come home, but when my partner couldn’t get their bipolar meds, antidepressants, and anti-anxiety meds refilled—they tried repeatedly contacting this person for two weeks until eventually running out of meds—I fired off an unsparing but respectful email. My partner started to go through severe withdrawals. I ran out of my antidepressant and anti-anxiety meds shortly thereafter. It was not fun! We basically had to take turns being on suicide watch while the other frantically scrolled the pages of psychologytoday.com trying to find a new psychiatrist. I wish that were a joke!
Thankfully, my partner’s primary care doctor pulled through and ordered their refills. I was able to refill my meds through another psychiatrist a friend had put me in touch with. During this entire ordeal, not once did our previous psychiatrist reach out to us out of concern or curiosity. There was nothing. It felt like screaming on the street, but no one could hear us. We felt like ghosts. We felt helpless.
I don’t want anyone else going through what we did, why is why I thought I would compile some tips culled from friends and acquaintances who’ve experienced similar misfortunes:
1. Do your homework.
Think of this as a preventative measure when you’re compiling a list of folks to reach out to. A simple Google search would have saved my partner and me a lot of grief. And if you do find yourself in a situation where you are in need of an emergency refill:
2. Ask your primary care provider for an emergency refill.
In my experience, a one-time emergency script is not too big of an ask if you have a primary care doctor. My partner’s doctor was able to refill their meds while they secured an appointment with a new psychiatrist.
3. Ask your pharmacy for an emergency refill.
Pharmacies can oftentimes dispense an emergency supply of your medication if your health is in jeopardy without it. Just don’t forget to bring your empty pill bottle in case you’re required to provide proof of your prescription.
3. Go to an urgent care clinic.
If your pharmacy is unable or unwilling to help you, a doctor at an urgent care clinic may be able to write you a one-time emergency script until you can secure an appointment with a qualified medical professional who can get you back on track with your regularly scheduled refills. Just make sure you bring your empty pill bottle, too.
4. Go to the ER.
If all else fails, you can always bring your empty pill bottle with you to the hospital, which is what my partner and I were about to do before we were both able to secure our respective refills.
5. There are still options.
If you have insurance, call your provider’s patient line to see if there are any options worth exploring. I also have a friend who once went to a psychiatric facility with outpatient services, but be aware that some may require you to hand over your freedom in the form of your signature before you can talk to a doctor. There are also a number of mental health crisis hotlines you can call that can help connect you with the appropriate help.
This is by no means a perfect system. Anyone familiar with our country’s healthcare system knows that it is a bag of garbage marinating in days-old hot dog water. It’s a nightmare. I will probably die on hold with my insurance provider. But there are still ways to seek help and treatment within a system designed to herd out those who can’t afford to benefit from it. At the very least, I hope help can be found by sharing my story here.