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The True 'Cost' of Mental Illness


Living with a mental illness can be extremely challenging and difficult, and sometimes it is only made worse by the state of our healthcare system and the insurance industry. It is widely believed that insurance companies don’t really care about a person’s health, be it physical or mental. It’s easy to believe insurance companies and the healthcare system see only a paycheck — some doctors and therapists may also fall into this trap too unfortunately. The sad reality is that there can be an utter disregard for the well-being of a person. It’s like going to the mechanic — check in, get a tune-up and pay through the nose to fix your vehicle.

Mental illness is already stigmatized. Those with mental illnesses not only have their internal struggle, but the struggle of being categorized and labeled as the “fragile” or “crazy” person — not something that will aid in a person’s recovery or stable sense of self. It is then made worse by the insurance industry and healthcare system, especially if you’re poor or middle-class.

So many hospitals, therapists, group therapies (like DBT and CBT) are not covered by health insurance. People pay a high price to be covered in case of illness already, but when they are in dire need of help, their insurance may not really cover anything. Inpatient, outpatient — it’s all expensive. Someone who is trying to get help is unable to do so because one does not have the monetary resources. Healthcare providers tell you to seek treatment, but sometimes seem to either not realize or not care that you could go hungry or homeless if you decided to go through with the therapy or hospitalization. Being homeless and hungry would not benefit anyone, let alone someone with a mental illness.

There are outpatient programs that are billed as hospital stays. A DBT group therapy can run upwards of 250 dollars a day until one hits their insurance deductible or can no longer afford to get better. You are often forced to choose between falling in debt or falling apart.

And not to mention where these mental health resources are found. It seems that so many of these resources (whether they are covered by insurance or not) are in seedy areas or in offices that are depressing in and of themselves. Say an insurance plan completely covers all mental health services. It is rare that the insured will be in a top-rate clinic or even a building that doesn’t look like it is still stuck in the 80s — dark, dingy paint, dust, old furniture and chairs that have seen better days. Why should people who cannot easily afford therapy or hospital stays be treated as second-class citizens? Why doesn’t their mental health care matter? Mental illness isn’t glitz and glamour, but that doesn’t mean people should receive subpar care, where the environment does the opposite of lift someone’s spirit and hope for a better future.

It is no wonder that so many homeless people can’t get treatment for mental illness. The Treatment Advocacy Center says, “approximately 33 percent of the homeless are individuals with serious mental illnesses that are untreated.” People are seeking help, but are turned away because they cannot afford to get better.

Free mental health resources are not readily available in all parts of the country, and these free resources are not necessarily enough to help someone get better. Suicide hotlines are of great benefit but they are a Band-Aid — they help in that moment and protect the wound, not heal it. Along with advocacy to destigmatize mental illness should be advocacy to obtain affordable healthcare services for both mentally and physically ill individuals.

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Getty Images photo via Dian_S_Cahya