get treatmentI ran into a woman at the grocery store on Sunday who has depression, among some other disorders. I have not seen her in quite awhile and she did not look well. In the months since we had last spoken she still had not been able to find the money or get a scholarship to a treatment center. She lives with her cats and is supported by her family. She does not believe she can get better without going to a treatment center.

What she and others need to understand is that most of us will never go to a treatment center. Only a very small, primarily elite fraction of people with mental illnesses can afford treatment. While I credit shows like Intervention, Celebrity Rehab and Hoarders for educating the public about the immense difficulties of recovery, I fear  they have created the belief that going to a treatment center is the only way to get well.

Unfortunately, some people with addictions and other mental illnesses will use this as a excuse not to get well. “I can’t get into treatment…”  I’m going to be brutally frank here: If these people  put as much effort into getting well as to applying for scholarships, hounding friends and family for money and whining about not being able to go to treatment, they might get well.

I absolutely agree that residential treatment is the only way some people will regain their health. Some of us are sicker than others.  However, there is help for people who cannot afford residential treatment. Unfortunately, you are going to have to really work to find and get it. And this is not easy if you are at the bottom of a black hole.

I am not a doctor but here is what has worked for me: Quit drinking alcohol for at least a couple of months and see if this has any impact on your depression. It will not be easy, especially if you are at the bottom of a black hole. Here are some suggestions:

Quit drinking. Many of us, myself included, self-medicate with alcohol. Quitting accomplishes several things: You will have more money – maybe enough to see a doctor; you may realize you have a drinking problem; you will sleep better; you will no longer be throwing fuel on your depression – alcohol is a depressant.

Call or go to your community health center or public health department and find out what services are available for mental illness. Contact national and local non-profit mental health organizations, such as NAMI, Mental Health America and the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance for support groups in your area. GO TO THESE MEETINGS!!!

If you suspect you have an alcohol or drug problem and cannot afford residential treatment, go to an Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meeting. The groups’ numbers are in the phone book or call 411 or go online and Google the name of your community and “Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.”  It’s the same 12-Steps they are using in the chi-chi treatment center but it’s free. GO TO THESE MEETINGS!!!

Call 211 and ask for help. Local 211 organizations not only provide suicide crisis counseling but also help you find help.

Call the Partnership for Prescription Assistance. The PPA helps qualifying patients without prescription drug coverage get the medicines they need through the program that is right for them. Many will get their medications free or nearly free. If that doesn’t work, call the pharmaceutical company the manufactures your medication and ask if it has its own prescription assistance program. You might be surprised.

If you belong to a church, temple, mosque or other place of worship – talk to your priest or rabbi or spiritual adviser.

Make sure you seek help for ALL your issues. For example, if you also have an eating disorder, get in touch with the National Eating Disorder Alliance to find support groups in your community. You may think support groups are all touchy-feely. Remember, you don’t have to say anything. If you don’t like a particular meeting, ask if the groups holds other meetings at different times or other locations. Shop around. Your chances of getting and staying well are not good if you do not treat ALL your issues.

Find out if you are eligible for Social Security disability.

Keep applying for scholarships at treatment centers and call to see if they hold any support groups open to the public or can refer you to groups or services.

I know you’re thinking, WOW! That’s a lot of work. It is. It won’t be nearly as easy as checking into a residential treatment program.  There will be times when you are sick and it will be all that you can do to take a shower. These are suggestions. Take them or leave them, do what you can.

Hey, I would rather be depressed and working on my recovery at a treatment center in Malibu or Antigua, too. Ain’t gonna  happen. Life isn’t fair. But if you do these things, I guarantee that you will feel proud. You will have a little self-esteem. You will know that you have “pulled yourself up by your bootstraps” as best as you could – like those idiots are always telling us to do.

Or, you could just keep doing what you’re doing. Your choice.

Photo by Dennis and Aimee Jonez, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.