Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Cost of Mental Illness

Mental illness is expensive.

I recently had to find myself a new mental healthcare professional, after moving to Louisiana for work. Although she will, of course, remain nameless, I will say that I like her so far.

The problem is, she's so damned expensive.

Because she is a medical psychologist rather than a psychiatrist, and because she works alone rather than in a group office, she does not accept insurance, so all of my visits are paid for out-of-pocket, $125 at a time. For one harrowing stretch--the intake period--I was paying this amount weekly, but now it's monthly. There is my monthly supply of antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications, which are largely covered by BCBS but also require a certain amount of copayment; I'll call it $20 for the sake of argument. 

Then there was the genetic analysis, which led to the revelation that I may be metabolizing my medications too quickly, which makes them less effective, and that I may suffer from a deficiency of a certain B-vitamin. At this point, the doctor recommended something to address this, which costs approximately $63 per month.

So let's review: if I see my doctor every four weeks and take all of my pills according to the label directions, I'm spending around $208 per month--gas to the office and insurance premiums not included--in order to stay relatively functional. That's $2496 per year, or about ten percent of my pre-tax income, simply because my brain is incapable of balancing certain chemicals on its own.

This number hurts.

It doesn't hurt only me. It also impacts millions of people around the world who cannot afford the mental healthcare they need, and it affects loved ones who have to watch their friends and family members suffer. It has an effect on society, both in economic terms--employees may be unable to work due to their mental illness, or people may not be able to get a job at all due to lack of resources and care--and in terms of stigma, which can be pervasive and brutal and lead people to leave their mental illness unacknowledged or unaddressed for the sake of "fitting in."

Because there are still people out there--legislators included--who believe that depression is a matter of being weak-willed. "What do you have to be sad about?" they ask, even though anyone who has ever been there knows that this is not the way it works, not even a little. And there are companies out there making billions of dollars from medication that could prove to be lifesaving but is sometimes difficult to obtain due to a dearth of mental health services in some areas. 

These issues don't affect me nearly as much as they do some people, and it makes me incredibly frustrated knowing that others have to go without this basic care due to financial constraints or societal issues. I suppose my point here is that we should be taking mental healthcare more seriously as a country--or better yet, as humans--and offering the support that others need and deserve. It may not lessen the financial burden, but it can certainly raise a person's spirits to know that they can discuss their very real issues with someone without judgment.