The high price of living with a mental illness

When affording necessities comes first for low-income students, treatment for mental illnesses dangerously takes a back seat.

Worth the cost? Senior Emily Fenner found a therapist online but felt the treatment wasn’t worth the high price. Fenner had a difficult time finding quality therapy for a sustainable cost. “I think that the amount of money it takes just to see if you’re okay is kind of stupid because sometimes you get a really good therapist for a really high cost or a really bad therapist for a really high cost. You never know which one you’re gonna end up with. Plus if you don’t have that insurance or that backup you’re just out of luck. It’s really sad,” Fenner said. (Graphic created by Hailey Cordell)

While state Medicaid provides the opportunity for some low-income people to receive mental health care, those slightly above Medicaid qualifications are stuck with either an extremely high healthcare bill or no healthcare coverage at all. Those who cannot afford therapy or treatment for mental illnesses deserve the right to a fulfilling and safe life; just as much as those who have the means to afford treatments.

Mental health care is forced to take a back seat when students struggle to afford the necessities required of life. However, treatment for mental illnesses is a necessity to ensure the safety of those living with them, and to improve quality of life for all people living with undiagnosed or untreated mental illnesses.

Those living below the poverty line in Washington state are offered state Medicaid, called Apple Health, which is insurance provided to those who meet income requirements set by the state. Apple Care provides coverage for semi-annual dentist and doctor visits and certain mental health providers and therapists.

A three-person household may qualify for free coverage, low-cost coverage, or no government-provided coverage at all. (Graphic created by Hailey Cordell)

A three-person household may qualify for free coverage, low-cost coverage, or no government-provided coverage at all.

A parent looking to get Medicaid, or Apple Care, for their child must meet certain income criteria.

A child in a three-person household will receive Free coverage if their family income is below $3,935 a month. A child in a three-person household will receive Low-Cost coverage if their household income is below $4,850 a month. The reduced cost would be $200 a month per child, with a $40 family maximum. A child in a three-person household will receive low-cost courage if their household monthly income is below $5,802 a month at a rate of $30 per child with a $60 family maximum.

Unfortunately, a household with three members with a monthly income over $6,000 will have to find a healthcare plan on their own, if not ensured by their employer. Independent healthcare for a three-person household would cost anywhere from $200 to $300 for a family depending on the healthcare provider.

Those above the income requirements for state Medicaid may not have access to mental health care because of the cost of independent healthcare coverage. Additionally, a diagnosis from a doctor would be required before insurance would cover an individual’s therapy or treatment costs.

“The number of people without health coverage increased by 62,000 in 2018 to 468,000, compared to 406,000 in 2017, despite an increase in employment-based insurance. The increase of the uninsured in 2018 was associated with coverage declines in Medicaid and individual market coverage,” the Washington State Office of Financial Management reported in Dec. 2019.

The cost of healthcare and treatments for mental disabilities can cause illnesses to go untreated.

An anonymous Marysville Pilchuck High School sophomore described their experience with finding out they were on the autism spectrum. When going to a bi-yearly check-up, they answered the doctor’s questions about mental health honestly and received a diagnosis of being on the autism spectrum.

“He came back with a paper and was like ‘I’m going to ask some more questions. It was all related to autism, and so it was like a screening,” they said.

While the diagnosis didn’t affect their life in a major way, the diagnosis opened the door for treatments for other mental health issues like depression and ADHD.

“Therapy helps put into context behaviors I had before related to ADHD and autism, it helps me deal with those and work around those. That’s one thing that really helps. Therapy got me to the place I am now way faster than I would have on my own. I could have gotten here by myself, but it would have taken longer,” they said.

Senior Emily Fenner expressed her experience with finding and affording therapy after her anxiety diagnosis. Due to COVID-19, information was difficult to find.

“I didn’t get therapy right away. And then the rest of my doctor’s visits were phone calls, so I didn’t have an opportunity to get the information for the therapists they had there. I didn’t really know what to do so I just started looking for a therapist on my own,” Fenner said.

Fenner found a therapist on Psychology Today at the price of $30 per meeting. Fenner decided to meet with her therapist for online sessions every other week. After a few meetings of not being asked to pay, Fenner was charged $90.

“I paid $90 and then I was like ‘Hey Carl, I don’t think this is gonna work out’ so that’s pretty much it,” Fenner said.

Fenner did not find the therapy sessions that she paid for to be beneficial. Fenner’s therapist talked about personal issues during the time she was charged for and additionally encouraged Fenner to buy expensive books to help with her anxiety.

“He sort of just like would tell me to go to a store and walk around for like ten minutes like, ‘just see how it feels, see how you feel, write it down or something’ and just gave me books to read that I had to pay for, so I didn’t buy those,” Fenner said.

The Children’s Mental Health Report by the Child Mind Institute found that 30% of children who have anxiety, 40% of children with diagnosable ADHD or ADD, and 60% of children with diagnosable depression don’t receive treatment.

“If money wasn’t a question, I think ideally either look for another one on that same website, or I would go to my doctor again and ask for her opinion on some of the therapists at the Everett Clinic,” Fenner said.

“Unmet mental health needs contribute to profound suffering and deaths largely because people cannot access needed treatment,” a study published to the National Center for Biotechnology information reported.

There has been a connection between poor mental health and decreased economic output.

“In an analysis of economic and demographic data from 2008 to 2014, the researchers found that a single extra poor mental health day in a month was associated with a 1.84 percent drop in the per capita real income growth rate, resulting in $53 billion less total income each year,” according to researchers at Penn State.

However, the case for mental health equity shouldn’t be found in the link between poor mental health and decreased economic gain. People, no matter their income, have the right to be healthy.

Individuals who live with mental disorders need treatment so that they can experience an increased quality of life, not increased productivity and economic output like robots with the sole purpose of production.

Life has value, and those who live with mental illnesses, despite their economic status, deserve to experience and enjoy life.