Living with Mental Health and Illness in Orleans: Access to Treatment, and Other Thoughts.

The purpose of this piece is not to be an authority on the state of mental health and illness or the access to treatment of mental health conditions and illnesses in New Orleans.  My purpose is to make a few statements based on the experiences that those around me have had in my ten years here as well as those that I’ve had in my own life.  In a follow up article in a month or two I will pair this with thoughts from local community members, mental health organizations that provide treatment and direction, and mental health activists.

New Orleans is a unique city in its cultural openness towards mental illness.  There are many cities that hide away their mentally ill members and brush these issues further under the rug than we do here.  There are multiple organizations that work to provide treatment and options for those living with mental illness.  I am an example of one of those who lives with mental illness.  I first began dealing with this as an 18 year old in Atlanta, but did not begin to really delve into my treatment options as well as the depth of my illnesses until I moved to New Orleans.  New Orleans may be known by many as a party city, but it is so much more than that.  To me, New Orleans has served as a place where I feel normal, where I feel accepted, where I feel that there is help for people like me.  Help for people who, as they grow into adulthood, began to realize that they are living with a mental illness and decide to seek information and treatment.

My personal experience with seeking treatment for mental illness and the stigmas therein is limited to three cities; Atlanta, Georgia, Charlotte, North Carolina, and New Orleans, Louisiana.  Of these three, the most comprehensive and open treatment I’ve been able to get with some ease has been in New Orleans.

The psychiatry scene in New Orleans is much like any other city.  There are numerous psychiatrists of differing backgrounds offering the same services.  What truly makes New Orleans stand out from other towns is the social honesty with which it approaches mental illness as well as the various sliding scale therapies that are available in different forms throughout the city.  In much of the US, especially Atlanta and Charlotte, the rich or those with better health insurance plans can afford therapy easily.  In New Orleans, there are numerous options, from CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy), reiki, hypnosis-therapy, EMDR psychotherapy and more.  A prime example of this social awareness of mental health issues and the sliding scale therapies available to treat these issues is contained in the Healing Center off of St. Claude Avenue.

At the New Orleans healing center there are many different services and groups, but the one that stands out most in my mind and in my experience is AFA or Affordable Healing Arts.  I’ve received reiki therapy, hypnosis therapy and EMDR therapy all at this one center with different practitioners.  They have licensed clinical therapists, social workers and many other people who are well versed in various healing arts.  All of my experiences with the AFA group have been sliding scale.  There are other communities like this throughout the city that offer similar services and often have at least a few people on their staff who do sliding scale therapies.  Making therapy accessible financially to the residents of this city truly makes the difference in the overall treatment of and attitude towards mental health and illness.  Without accessible therapy,  all the psychiatry and medication I was able to get through my Insurance plan (which doesn’t cover behavioral health other than the initial psychiatry visit) would not have stuck.  Therapy gives the other aspects of mental health services the chance to stick and take hold.  New Orleans could surely do better in some respects, but the social and accessible approach to mental health in this town is the best I’ve experienced.

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