When help is hard to get

Without insurance, many can’t obtain mental-health care

The author is a local animal activist and host of the Sentients program Tuesdays at 5:30 p.m. on Chico’s community radio station, KZFR 90.1 FM.

In September, the CN&R published my story, “Staring down hopelessness,” about dealing with depression and how to seek help in Butte County. I alluded to a couple of major resources, Butte County Behavioral Health and Enloe Behavioral Health.

In the story, I mentioned that I knew I would continue to battle depression, have ups and downs and deal with things day by day. Recently, right around the holidays, I hit a rough patch. I was struggling to get out of the house and go to work. I didn’t want to do anything fun and just wanted to stay in and be by myself. I wasn’t suicidal, but I was definitely struggling and needed to talk to someone.

I also mentioned in my story that I was actively insured, and how fortunate I was to have that assistance when I needed it. Recently, I lost my insurance benefits. This left me in the same position as many others: seeking help from local resources and facilities without the insurance cushion.

In researching my story, I called various facilities to find out what people without insurance could do if they needed help. I was told that someone without insurance could walk in and that these facilities would assist them, with either sliding-scale payment or a payment plan.

When I called them for help a couple of weeks ago, however, I was told something different. In order to get free or low-cost help, you must be in crisis (that is, suicidal). I was referred to a couple of free clinics, so I called them and left messages. I never heard back.

Butte County needs a serious overhaul of its behavioral- and mental-health assistance programs. Unless you are in crisis, you will be hard pressed to find the help you need if you do not have insurance. Getting to the crisis point is scary enough, but getting to that point because you cannot afford help should never happen.

In the wake of what happened in Connecticut last month, I think now more than ever we should look at the bigger picture and continue to improve our assistance programs. In the meantime, visit www.helpcentral.org for a list of low-cost health services that may be available in Butte County.