The Price of Mental Health


Credit to 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?


About Cassandra Stout

Freelance writer Cassandra Stout blogs at the award-winning Bipolar Parent, a comprehensive resource for parents with mental illnesses. Cassandra holds degrees from the University of Arizona in Creative Writing and Journalism. She has been a judge for the Pacific Northwest Writers' Association literary contest for nine years, where her memoir, Committed, recently placed as a finalist. She balances her literary work with raising her children, feeding her cat, and managing her bipolar disorder.
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12 Responses to The Price of Mental Health

  1. Raegina says:

    Wow that is pricey. We have mental health plans in Australia so my psychologist is heavily subsidised. Also as I am pregnant I am going through the government mental health scheme so my psychiatrist is free and I also have a team of counsellors with that service. Usually though you have go through acute in order to see a public psych otherwise it is common to pay out $300+ per 15minute appointment (I am told). Medication is also subsidised depending on the illness. My Olanzapine is $22 per fortnight on the government scheme compared to $55 if I didn’t have the ‘bipolar I disorder’ diagnosis. The bloods are also free depending on which box your doctor ticks. I sometimes have to pay for the thyroid, but haven’t figured out what it is in the paperwork that makes this so.

    • Oh, man, that’s really interesting! I didn’t know that costs vary based on the disorder you have. What a smart way to do things! I hope you can afford your treatment from now until forever.

  2. dyane says:

    I can’t begin to say how grateful I am that my lithium is cheap ($30/month) & I don’t have to pay for blood draws.How horrible that the person you mentioned had to stop taking it due to the blood draw cost. And that’s truly ridiculous how far more money is allocated to diabetes research than to mental illness. :((((

    I’m glad you ended the (*excellent as usual”) post with some great, low-cost ideas! Xo

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Dyane! I’m so glad your lithium is cheap, and that it works for you. So many people can’t afford their treatments for mental illness, and I just know that if more money were allocated to research, things would get cheaper for all. I hope you can afford your treatment from now until forever!

      • dyane says:

        Thanks, sweet Cass. I’m still paying off 3 hospitalizations (I might have added that) from 2013, & ECT, and I’ll be paying for years to come. This country is &^*^* up! It’s another reason to move to the U.K. (I’m an Anglophile; I’ve always wanted to visit there and maybe stay a long while…) – don’t they have a much better health system in the NHS than we do? I’m not sure. Um, I could be very wrong about that! :0

  3. Last year I was so blessed! I qualified for Medicaid, which paid for my prescription drugs. I paid out of pocket for my Psychiatrist, but my therapist took me on pro bono.

    Nothing has changed in my income but for some reason, the medicaid was inexplicably cancelled. And unfortunately, i fell out of contact with my therapist.

    Last month when I went to the pharmacy to pick up my prescriptions, they were too expensive over $1,200! (Needless to say, I stopped taking that some). I can’t even afford them but I have a backup supply that will last me another month until I figure out some alternative form of coverage or different meds that will still work for me.

    Back in 2012, I lost coverage, was going through financial difficulties and began self-medicating. Ended up in ICU with machines breathing for me, keeping me alive. I won’t let that happen again.

    I must find a way to get the treatment I need!

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