Ask­ing for help should be the first step, not the long­est one

Find­ing a coun­sel­lor with a wheel­chair-ac­ces­si­ble prac­tice re­ally should not be this dif­fi­cult

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Health | Lifestyle - Louise Bru­ton

It’s of­ten said that when you’re feel­ing down, ask­ing for help is the first and, some­times, scari­est step. If you are look­ing be­yond the help of friends and fam­ily, you make the phone call, you sched­ule the ap­point­ment and you see how you get on.

How­ever, if you are a wheel­chair user or have lim­ited mo­bil­ity, you have to keep mak­ing phone calls un­til you find a ther­a­pist whose of­fice is lo­cated in an ac­ces­si­ble build­ing, drag­ging out the first and scari­est step more than it needs to be.

Al­most to the ex­act date ev­ery year, I find my­self in the same po­si­tion: down af­ter the high of sum­mer and cut­ting back on so­cial ac­tiv­i­ties be­cause of dark evenings and cold weather, I know that I get sad in win­ter­time. Hav­ing caught on to this pat­tern two years ago, I know that coun­selling is what helps me un­tan­gle the bad thoughts in my head from my ra­tio­nal ones. But out of my last two coun­sel­lors, I didn’t gel with one and the other one was in an ac­ces­si­ble build­ing but was an hour’s drive away.

Find­ing a coun­sel­lor – any coun­sel­lor – is easy and find­ing the right one for you takes time, but when you need to find the right coun­sel­lor on top of find­ing one in a build­ing that suits your dis­abil­ity, the re­search it takes might feel like too much, espe­cially if you are not feel­ing like your­self.

When you ini­tially search on­line for a pri­vate coun­sel­lor or ther­a­pist in your area, their web­site doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily tell you if their of­fice is in a base­ment or above a shop, so you have to phone them up. Al­most ev­ery phone call is met with the same apolo­getic re­sponse. It’s be­yond frus­trat­ing that the first block­ade you en­counter hap­pens just when you’ve fi­nally worked up the courage to seek help.

Ac­cess

When I Googled ther­apy prac­tices in Ire­land that specif­i­cally in­clude wheel­chair ac­cess, the re­sults weren’t hugely boun­ti­ful, but those that do high­light it are very clear about their fa­cil­i­ties.

In many of their cen­tres across the coun­try, the Ir­ish Wheel­chair As­so­ci­a­tion and the Na­tional Coun­cil for the Blind of Ire­land of­fer peer coun­selling ser­vices, with con­fi­den­tial coun­selling ses­sions led by peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties or some­one who also has sight loss. The NCBI also of­fer the ser­vices of psy­chother­a­pist and pro­fes­sional coun­sel­lors. GOSHH, a Lim­er­ick-based char­ity that sup­ports peo­ple with is­sues re­lated to gen­der, ori­en­ta­tion, sex­ual health and/or HIV, in­cludes a de­tailed ac­cess sub-sec­tion on their web­site for dis­abled peo­ple who want to use their ser­vices. The Fam­ily Ther­apy As­so­ci­a­tion of Ire­land and the Ir­ish Coun­cil for Psy­chother­apy in­clude wheel­chair-ac­cess fil­ters on their web­sites’s search func­tions.

How­ever, think­ing that I’d hit the jack­pot by find­ing two wheel­chair-ac­ces­si­ble prac­tices in my area us­ing those sites, I found out that their de­tails on­line were in­cor­rect as soon as I phoned them.

They were not ac­ces­si­ble and I had to go back to the start. Again.

Caoimhe Glee­son, HSE’s na­tional spe­cial­ist in ac­ces­si­bil­ity, rec­om­mends that peo­ple with lim­ited mo­bil­ity ini­tially con­tact their lo­cal hospi­tal or health­care cen­tre’s ac­cess of­fi­cer, whose de­tails can be found on the HSE’s web­site in the ac­ces­si­ble ser­vices sec­tion, and they then can carry out the ac­cess re­search for you. If there

is no ac­cess of­fi­cer in your area, she ad­vises that you con­tact the pa­tient ad­vo­cacy and li­ai­son ser­vice in any large hos­pi­tals nearby.

“Pri­mary and com­mu­nity care ser­vices (where coun­selling would take place) also have ac­cess of­fi­cers or con­sumer ser­vice of­fi­cers who should be able to help,” she says in an email. “In smaller lo­ca­tions the per­son in charge, di­rec­tor of nurs­ing, di­rec­tor of ser­vices, of­fice man­ager should be able to pro­vide as­sis­tance and in­for­ma­tion as a start­ing point if they do not have one of the above.”

There’s a huge lack of spe­cialised men­tal health ser­vices that are in­clu­sive of dis­abled peo­ple and when you feel like you’re at an ebb, small bat­tles like these can be mag­ni­fied, pro­pel­ling a sense of iso­la­tion. Spe­cialised ther­a­pies are key in some cases – what hap­pens to the woman in a wheel­chair that’s liv­ing with post­na­tal de­pres­sion? Or the teenager on crutches that has anx­i­ety caused by so­cial me­dia? So you can’t just set­tle with who­ever hap­pens to have the only ac­ces­si­ble prac­tice near you.

Ask­ing for help is the first step but for dis­abled peo­ple, it’s the long­est one.

Louise Bru­ton: “There’s a lack of spe­cialised men­tal health ser­vices that are in­clu­sive of dis­abled peo­ple”

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