‘Asking for help should be the first step, not also the longest one’
‘Finding a counsellor with a wheelchair-accessible practice shouldn’t be this difficult’
Louise Bruton: “There’s a huge lack of specialised mental health services that are inclusive of disabled people.” Photograph: Dave Meehan
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.
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.
Platform Series - Louise Bruton
1) Sexual health
2) Day I started using a wheelchair
3) ‘Wheelchair-friendly’ rooms
4) Please don’t ask me
6) Asking for help
7) Things you learn in a wheelchair
8) Sex and disability in the spotlight
9) I spend much of my time waiting
10) People with disabilities need allies