Why Health Insurance Needs to Cover Suicide Attempts

Suicide and attempted suicide are painful enough, but compound the emotional aftermath with health insurance companies refusing to pay for medical bills, and people can be left emotionally devastated and financially unstable.

This is a painful story to write, having gone through an attempted suicide myself six months ago. My experience is very similar to millions of women and men in the world. I know I am not alone, but it doesn’t make it any easier. As isolated as I felt in an abusive relationship, I felt just as isolated dealing with the aftermath of a breakup and attempted suicide.

Without going into the nitty gritty details of the relationship, I was emotionally and physically abused for more than five years, which culminated in a desperate attempt to get attention from my long distance lover and wondering what it would be like to feel real physical pain. No one could see the inner pain, so the only way I could prove “real” pain was to inflict self-harm.

This act completely backfired. I spent three days in the hospital on psychiatric hold, received treatment for the physical effects of my attempt, was treated poorly by emergency room staff, missed a few days of work, disappointed my family members; and the worst part for me was that my boyfriend refused to talk to me for a few weeks because he said he couldn’t deal with someone so completely irrational.

Then the bills starting pouring in. I have good medical insurance, which covered a big chunk of the various bills. I paid all of them in the course of a few months. But with a little probing, the insurance company found out that my injury was a result of self-infliction and not an accident in the kitchen.

Just when I thought I was in the clear, I suddenly owed more money that had already been paid out to hospitals and doctors by my insurance company. I now have to pay back thousands of dollars for bills that I thought were taken care of by insurance. The stigma of mental health was being thrown back in my face at this point.

One in four adults in our country experiences mental illness at some point in their life, yet mental health care is still considered a luxury. Suicide is among the leading global causes of death for women between the ages of 20 and 59. Suicide is a public health crisis… hello?

Employment-based health plans can’t deny eligibility for benefits for medical conditions such as depression or diabetes under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA). However, insurers are allowed to deny coverage for injuries caused by a specific activity outlined in the plan, including self-inflicted harm.

A 2011 study published by the American Association of Suicidology found a connection between attempted suicide and bankruptcy, concluding that “individuals admitted to a trauma center following an attempted suicide were just over twice as likely to become bankrupt within two years compared to those who were admitted following an accident.”

I won’t allow myself to become bankrupt over my attempted suicide, but many people don’t have a choice. The increasing demand for psychiatric nurse practitioners is proof that there’s a greater need for quality mental health care. The discussion of mental health and insurance coverage bears more attention and increased visibility.

My advice would be to rethink a suicide attempt and instead reach out to a hotline, friend, or check yourself into the emergency room immediately. The consequences can be devastating, embarrassing and life-changing. The only good thing is that I am now getting help from a doctor, a counselor, and have been diagnosed with major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder, which is being treated, in part, with medication. Learning coping skills and fully understanding mental illness is a big part of treatment, as well.

No partner is worth your loss of dignity, and worse, your life. Be brave, get help and tell your story.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

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Unsplash photo via Cameron Stow

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