I am mentally ill: Without health insurance I would be dead or in jail

How my view on medication has changed and why I think everyone should have access to proper treatment


By Michael, EMT-C, Providence Fire Department, 23 years in EMS 

I think it is important that people suffering with depression understand that sometimes just snapping out of it is impossible, and medication works. Thanks for reading. Again, I am mentally ill. There, I said it. I have been medically treated for depression since 2001, when my psychiatrist prescribed Wellbutrin for my condition. Does it still work? I don’t know, but I’m afraid to stop taking it. Prior to being medicated I drank, a lot. It was the only thing that brightened my outlook on just about everything.

I tried “snapping out of it”. I failed. I tried occupying my time doing things that once allowed me to forget everything while I was immersed in whatever it was that brought relief to my melancholy, but even things that should have been loads of fun were simply exhausting. Everything was exhausting. “Darkness descends” is a good way of describing the world I lived in nearly every day. I thought it was normal to live that way, and to live a shadowy existence where even the brightest sunshine was obscured with cloudiness manifested in my mind.

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The medication definitely helped. When I struggled with the stigma of a person taking psych meds, my therapist put it this way: “When you need to hang a picture on the wall do you pound your head against the nail, or do you use a hammer? Think of the medicine as a tool, nothing more, nothing less. It would be ridiculous to suffer when there is a tool handy to make the job of living a little bit easier.” That made sense, yet I still had to question things. If I don’t drink and don’t take my medications will everything be okay, or will I start drinking again to alleviate my dreary existence?

I often wonder, but it’s just not worth the risk, because life is pretty darn good at the moment. But what if…what if I wasn’t able to take any medication because I didn’t have health care insurance or the ability to seek professional mental health advice, and self-medicated, and continued to drink alcohol heavily, and eventually did something stupid, such as drive drunk, and maybe, just maybe somebody got in my way and got killed because of my actions, where would I be now? I wouldn’t be writing this. You wouldn’t be reading it I would be in prison or dead, and people would know only one thing; that Michael Morse was a drunk who killed an innocent person.

Nobody would care about the rest of the story, the jury’s verdict would be final, and I would be my harshest critic, and I would be leading a life far different from the one I now enjoy. Or, I might have gotten lucky, and stayed out of trouble, but lived with an addiction that would inevitably lead me to hopelessness, despair, poverty and in all likelihood dependence on government services.

When I was in charge of an ALS crew in Providence, R.I., people would often ask me why I was overly “nice” to our mentally ill patients, the schizophrenics, bi-polar patients and chronically depressed; even when they would threaten us, spit at us, and physically attack us.

They wondered why I never got “mad” at the drunks, the “bums” and the lost and helpless. Well, I never walked a mile in their shoes, but I still learned a lot at the half-mile mark. Our prisons are full of mentally ill people. Mental health care is woefully inadequate, and many people who are mentally ill have no idea how good their lives could be with the proper treatment. But what I find even more frustrating is the number of people whose lives could be vastly improved if they had access to proper mental health care, and if those who do were not afraid to use it.

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