The Price of Mental Health

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Credit to flickr.com user 401(K) 2012. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

The price of mental health is steep. According to a 2013 report by Health Affairs, Americans spent in excess of $201 billion on mental disorders, outspending diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. The National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that mental illness cost a loss of earnings of $193.2 billion in 2002, and the number is only growing with time. In 2006, mental disorders¬†were 6.2% of the nation’s spending on healthcare.

However, despite costing the American public so much, mental disorders don’t receive much in comparative funding for research. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimated that the organization would spend $396 million on mental illnesses in 2016, compared to $1 billion for diabetes research.

To make matters worse, a whopping 50% of Americans with mental disorders can’t afford to be treated.¬† Only a paltry 38.2 percent of the estimated 45.6 million people with mental illnesses were treated for them in 2011. Half of those not accessing mental health services cited that the costs were too high as their reason for avoiding treatment. That number, roughly 14 million Americans, includes both the insured and uninsured.

Periodic blood draws, psychiatrist visits, medications, therapy–the costs of mental health care add up fast. I know of someone who had to stop taking lithium because she couldn’t afford the blood draws to monitor it, putting her at risk for lithium toxicity.

But there are ways to receive mental health services at a lower price. Ask your therapist or psychiatrist about sliding-scale fees. Try out support groups, many of which are free and can be found in your local library. If you’re near a university, call their psychology program to see if there are any therapists in training willing to take you on. You are worth exploring these options.

How much do you spend on mental health?