Getting Around the Financial Obstacles to Mental Health Treatment

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I knew I couldn’t afford the office visit, let alone any of the prescriptions ordered, when I strolled into an urgent care clinic on a Sunday morning. But I realised I needed assistance and that I needed to try something.

I was in the throes of a profound, dark, and incapacitating depression that rendered me unable to work or think rationally. I’d been suffering from crippling symptoms of serious depression since I was a teenager (though I couldn’t pinpoint what was wrong at the time), but this most recent episode was particularly concerning.

It had already been months, and I had been actively considering suicide as a way out, attempting to talk myself out of such a drastic decision. I was afraid that I might commit suicide. Despite my inability to pay, I sought medical attention.

My financial situation compelled me to make a difficult choice.
Instead of telling the truth to the care provider that day, I wrote a check for more than I had in my account. I didn’t feel like I had much of a choice at the time. Fortunately, during the next few days, I was able to earn some money performing odd jobs to deposit into the bank before the cheque was cashed.

While it seemed necessary at the time, I can’t say I’d suggest this strategy to anyone. In fact, if you feel comfortable doing so, I recommend being open and honest with providers about your financial status. If you can’t afford treatment but have the confidence and will to seek help, expressing your situation to a professional may be beneficial. There are those who can assist you, at least temporarily, in getting through a crisis.

However, as I would later learn, continuous mental health care necessitates financial resources.

My medical treatment was contingent on my financial situation.
I would be on and off numerous antidepressant prescriptions for the next 15 years after my trip to the urgent care clinic, trying to find an appropriate treatment for my mental health issues. I created a profitable business during that time, and as a result, I was able to pay for my therapy and had insurance to assist cover the costs.

After selling my business and suffering through another round of acute depression a few months later, I found myself divorced, bankrupt, and homeless. My mental health deteriorated more, and I was once again unable to pay for my treatment.

Low-cost mental health services were available in the county where I resided at the time. However, I was still asked to pay a minimum fee for services. I couldn’t afford more than $10 or $20 at the time. Even if I could afford a 30-minute therapy session, I couldn’t afford to pay for any meds because I didn’t have insurance, and I’d have to pay full price for medications that cost hundreds of dollars a month for someone without insurance.

As a result, I had to endure.

To pay for care, I cut corners.
For the next few years, I made ends meet by sharing a room with friends (or paying no rent at all with relatives) and working as an independent consultant when I could. I bought medication on a periodic basis, whenever I had extra cash. This was a difficult time in my life.

I found that cycling on and off antidepressants is not an effective treatment strategy; I was never depression-free for more than three to four months at a time since I couldn’t afford to take the pills as recommended. Even when I could afford medication, the financial burden exacerbated my mental health issues since I believed I would never be free of it.

My own situation has improved, but I am concerned about others.
My situation eventually changed. I was eventually able to locate a treatment that was effective for me, and I was able to afford to stick with it. But I didn’t get here by myself; I got emotional and financial help from a spouse.

My wife and I have been married for 12 years. She saw beyond my diagnosis and determined that I would receive all of the assistance I required to enhance my mental health. Her employer provided me with insurance that covered mental health issues. When I refused to go to the doctor, she drove me there. She took my prescriptions and made sure I took them. She figured out how to check in on me by asking how I “felt,” rather than what was “wrong” with me that day. Because of these word choices, we were able to converse without me feeling defensive and retreating.

She became a strong supporter of my efforts to find therapies that have showed promise for a better and longer-term treatment outcome. I’ve been gainfully employed for a decade, able to fund my co-pays and work without taking days off or missing work due to mental health concerns, thanks to new medicines and decent insurance. Unfortunately, many persons suffering from mental illness may not be able to find comfort or recover their health without the help of a family member or close friend.

Low-cost or no-cost solutions are frequently restricted (if they exist at all). This has to be changed. Mental health treatment is essential for the well-being of our society. Assistance should be accessible to everybody who requires it, regardless of their financial situation.

For those who cannot afford care, we have a responsibility to make this happen. Those of us who have travelled this path must speak up and share our experiences. Our past experiences can help us understand the changes we need to make in the future.

Marty Parrish is a Senior IT Program Project Manager for the nation’s biggest non-profit health care system and a PMI Certified Project Management Professional (PMP). He has a master’s degree in political science and has worked as a legislative assistant in Congress and on presidential campaigns in the United States. He built a successful company as a business expert, which he sold to a Fortune 500 corporation before he was 40. He freely discusses his mental health difficulties in order to help reduce the stigma around mental health care. Marty is a NAMI Provider trainer as well.

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