'I just feel like a burden:' Calgary-area woman shares stuggle finding mental health support
Trisha Murrell was only diagnosed with atypical Asperger's syndrome when she was 29
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Content warning: The following article discusses suicide and self-harm.
Trisha Murrell knows she’s on the autistic spectrum.
The problem is, it took the Calgary-area woman years to get the correct diagnosis – and finding support along the way has been anything but easy.
“Thinking back, I feel like if the doctors would have caught this early on, I would have been put in the proper classes, I likely would have finished school, and I could’ve probably made something of myself,” Trisha said. “But instead, I was just passed around. Nobody wanted to deal with me.”
Now, at nearly 30 years old, the Airdrie woman says she’s getting tired of fighting.
Trisha was ‘hardcore’ bullied as a kid. Things really began going downhill when the now-29 year old was 12, and she started getting in trouble at school for retailliating against her tormentors.
Dana Murrell said doctors brushed Trisha’s behaviour off at the time – her daughter was on the cusp of her teenage years and just acting out, she was told.
“It was nothing but hell – doctors never took her seriously,” Dana said. “She was just getting the runaround.”
Over the years, Trisha was diagnosed with ADHD. Bipolar disorder. Depression. Major depressive disorder. Borderline personality disorder.
But none of the labels fit. As the years ticked by, Trisha’s mental health kept deteriorating, and she continued to see specialist after specialist in search of help.
“It’s very lonely. I’ve spent more than half of my life fighting,” the young woman said. “I’ve thought about suicide daily for years. I cannot remember the last time I didn’t think about taking my life.”
Jobs came and went until last year, when her family doctor ordered her not to work until she was mentally well enough to. She’s been receiving $700 a month from social assistance since May last year, but says she’d rather be earning an income.
“All I want is to earn my place in this world, and I feel like I’m being held back from it,” Trisha said.
“It’s so bad financially right now, that for dinner, it’s like, ‘okay we only got one steak from the food bank – (Mom), have that and I’ll have cereal.’ Which literally happened this week.”
Trisha was recently diagnosed with atypical Aspergers syndrome, obsessive compulsive disorder, major depressive disorder and severe anxiety.
It was a lightbulb moment, and meant she could start the process to apply for Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) from the province – which provides a maximum monthly living allowance of $1,588.
The doctor who diagnosed her on the spectrum, who Metro has decided not to name, told Trisha they would write a detailed letter in support of her second application, but according to Dana, it never came.
She worries her daughter could be waiting for months, only to be rejected again because she isn't deemed "in need."
“I believe I’m on the autistic spectrum – I believe I always have been,” Trisha said. “But I’m at the point now where I just feel like a burden. I feel like a burden to the system, I feel like a burden to my family, because I can’t live on my own.”
She wants to move in with her boyfriend of two years, Tristan Marler, maybe even start her own family someday – but can’t afford to under her current circumstances.
Marler said he fears Trisha will take her own life before she gets the help she needs, financially and more importantly, mentally.
“Trisha’s been to hell and back, and I can’t stress that enough,” he said.
A few months ago, Trisha was in a state of crisis and self-harming herself, so Marler and Dana took her to a Calgary emergency room.
"I lost count of how many hours we waited – eventually we just left,” said Marler, who accompanied Trisha that night.
“The reality of the emergency room is that it is in no way set up to treat mental health. Sure, you break a leg, you go in and they’re ready for that – but when somebody is considering suicide, they’re not.”
Fed up with the lack of appropriate help for those in crisis, Dana and Trisha recently made the decision to go public with their struggle to navigate the system.
“I wake up daily knowing that I could get a phone call (that she’s dead). That’s where my kid’s at. And she’s going to be 30,” Dana said. “She has done everything in her power to excel, and it’s not working. Where do we go? What do we do? I’m desperate.”
'THE SYSTEM IS SICK'
“Unfortunately what happens is, you get people that are in desperation and need help now, and they go to emergency rooms and in many cases are not admitted, and they’re sent home and have to wait a long time to get a psychiatrist or the help that they need,” Lundy said.
“I’m not blaming the hospitals or emergency rooms, it’s just they don’t have the resources they need to deal with the mental illness patients coming through their doors. The system itself is sick.”
He said he knows of far too many people who took their own life after hitting one too many roadblocks getting help – which Lundy said is available, but not easy to find.
“That’s the number one problem – the system isn’t accessible. How can you access something if you’re not aware of it? There needs to be more collaboration with these organizations (and government) so there’s resources readily available,” Lundy said. “Mental illness is an epidemic, and its only getting worse – and our system can't keep up with it, so these patients fall through the cracks.”
After speaking with Metro for this story, Minds Over Matter reached out to Trisha and is helping to connect her with affordable, appropriate support.
IF YOU NEED HELP:
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, the Distress Centre Calgary offers free crisis counselling 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 403-266-HELP (4357).
You can also go to the nearest hospital or call 911.
For programs and services, or information about mental health, contact the Canadian Mental Health Association at 1-877-466-6606.