For me, it started with checking obsessions.
First, it was flicking the light switches on and off. Next, it was putting the toilet seat up and down repetitively. Once, twice, three times, ultimately finding that the fourth time was the sweet spot, the “just right” point. If the anxiety was still present, it meant four additional times.
My mother eventually caught on and asked me why? Why was I doing these repetitive actions? “I don’t know, I just have to do it,” was all I could say.
A short time later, at an appointment with the pediatrician, the diagnosis was made: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I was not even 10 years old and my mental health journey was underway.
Through the years, the OCD has ebbed and flowed, at certain points almost nonexistent while at other times nearly debilitating. As a person with a mental illness for nearly my entire life, I have seen and heard the thoughts and stigmas that surround mental health disorders.
For years, it was pushed under the rug, the stigma keeping sufferers quiet, left to bear it alone. People with mental illnesses were considered weak, unable to control their thoughts. People could not understand what anxiety and depression did to a person lost in the deepest depths of despair.
Through years of hard work, the stigma surrounding mental health has decreased significantly, with some forward-thinking companies going as far as offering mental health days. Despite the progress, the pandemic added a wrinkle that no one could have foreseen. People were forced to isolate themselves, unable to go to in-person therapy sessions.
Even after two years, many therapists still only offer patients virtual visits. The same happened with recovery meetings. Once seen as an in-person resource, meetings moved to a fully virtual experience.
On a personal level, the pandemic brought up new challenges with my OCD. Along with the checking compulsions and reassurance-seeking issues, a string of intrusive thoughts sprung up. With my therapist retiring, I was left to educate myself on intrusive thoughts while also searching for a therapist who could provide the treatment I needed.
I turned to the only resource I knew … Google. A search for “OCD intrusive thoughts” brought back nearly 3 million hits featuring a mix of reliable sources and not-so-reliable sources. Searches for “OCD therapist Grand Rapids” brought up over 500,000 results.
As I sat there, hour after hour, wading through the results, the thought occurred to me: there has to be a better way. With that thought in mind, West Michigan Mental Health was created.
Today, West Michigan Mental Health serves as a one-stop shop for all things mental health in West Michigan, focusing on Allegan, Barry, Ionia, Kent, Montcalm, Muskegon and Ottawa counties. Though still in the childhood stages, wmmentalhealth.com already features profiles of several local mental health organizations, a section dedicated to verified educational resources and our first blog.
And while it is fun to say our website is live, there is still a lot to be done. We will continue to grow our databases of local organizations and work to organize and display them in a way that is easy for users to navigate. Each county has its own individual page, so no matter where you live in West Michigan, we have you covered.
By May 1, we are moving forward with the blog page and hope to post a new blog each week. Whether you are someone with a mental illness who would like to share your story or a local therapist who wants to share your journey, we’d love to hear from you.
The vision is to create the largest hyper-local database of therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists from across the area. A database that will be searchable and when complete will feature an array of information including names, locations, areas of expertise, whether they are accepting new patients or not, and additional certifications or qualifications.
The idea is simple. Anyone who has suffered from a mental illness understands how hard it is to ask for help. It should not have to be difficult to find the information needed in order to get the help you need. West Michigan Mental Health is here for you. We are here to walk beside you to make the process as easy as possible.
Visit our Facebook page at West Michigan Health LLC for weekly informational posts and updates about the website. Remember, you don’t have to go through this alone.
— Austin Metz is a former Sentinel reporter and a Grand Rapids resident. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.