It may be easy to look from the outside at people who don’t receive treatment for schizophrenia, bipolar, or any other mental illness, and criticize those people, but the realities of getting and maintaining treatment are much harder than most people realize.

Last week I went to a pharmacy to pick up my medications. I have been going to the same pharmacy for almost ten years. I have been on the same medication for approximately five years. Every time I go to the pharmacy, there is a problem. The last time I went, they wrote the incorrect dosage on my pill bottle, so if I followed the dosage, I would be out of pills in less than thirty days. The pharmacist said the supply was for sixty days. I am lucky. I know how much my doctor and I agreed that I should be taking, and either way, the pharmacy had both numbers wrong – the amount I should be taking and how long my pills would last.

I know this may seem like a simple problem, but if you are suffering from psychosis or if your medication causes a brain fog, you may not notice the errors, and when it was time to refill your medication, the pharmacy would tell you that you have thirty days to wait until you can refill. That is thirty days without medication.

I have been living with a severe mental illness for over twenty years, you would think that my care would be like clockwork; see the psychiatrist, get blood work, fill medication, take medication daily, etc. It isn’t that simple, though. I have to jump through hoops with insurance, and constantly monitor what the pharmacy is doing in comparison to what my doctor has told me (and I have it easier than many people).

It is exasperating. It is difficult. It is complicated, and problems almost always seem to arise. There is no way I could handle these problems if I were in crisis. There is no way I could get treatment and stay in treatment without a support network.

I am a firm believer in the medical model. The medical model has allowed me to live a productive life for most of the past twenty years. It is a difficult system to maneuver, though. We need to come up with ideas to assist those people without a stable home, without a family support network, and especially those people in crisis. We need to make it easier for people to receive medication and help them to stay on medication.

Having a mental illness presents daily challenges and without support, those challenges can be too overwhelming to get the care you need. We need to stop criticizing people for not taking their medications and help them find a support network that would make treatment simple enough to manage.

I want everyone with a severe mental illness to have a chance at a fulfilling life, but that isn’t always possible if people are completely alone. As a society, we need to make sure that everyone has an advocate. We need to support those agencies that connect the mentally ill with social workers, doctors, and peer support specialists.

I’m just trying to point out that getting the treatment one needs is sometimes harder than we think, and judgment doesn’t help but a support network can. Advocates can and do change lives.

Pharmacy photo available from Shutterstock