May is Mental Health Awareness Month, which means it’s the perfect time to consider how we can do more to help ourselves and our loved ones get the support they need. However, as we all know, mental health support doesn’t always come cheap.
Read on for a quick guide to budgeting for mental healthcare, including insurance must-knows, service costs, and what’s available when you’re on a budget.
Mental Health and Insurance
The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports a number of challenges when it comes to accessing mental health care, even for individuals with health insurance. Common issues include long wait times to see a mental health professional, difficulty qualifying for treatment, and high out-of-pocket costs. Another challenge might be simply understanding what’s available under any given health plan. From deductibles to co-pays to tax implications, the landscape of medical insurance may be tricky to navigate!
If you receive health insurance from your employer, ask for help. There should be a member of the HR team who can walk you through what benefits are available on the company insurance plan. If you hold your own insurance, use online resources to get a better grasp on the vocabulary, and call up your insurer with specific questions. You can also look into a Health Savings Account or Flexible Spending Account, which are both tax-advantaged ways to help pay for medical expenses, including mental healthcare.
The Cost of Care
Whether or not you have insurance, it’s a good idea to understand how much mental healthcare costs. While prices will vary depending on your location and the type of care, here are some average pre-insurance costs to keep in mind:
- Therapy: A mental health professional typically charges $100-200 per session. This may be higher or lower depending on their qualifications and number of years in practice.
- Medication: The average monthly cost of medication for depression starts around $250, but this can easily increase depending on what drug is needed.
- Support Groups: You may be able to find free support groups in your area. On the other hand, joining group therapy should cost less than an individual session—around $50 per person is average.
- Alternative Therapies: Some people find symptom relief through alternative therapies such as yoga, art therapy, music programs and so on. Costs vary widely, and while these options are not traditionally covered by insurance, many insurers now offer wellness benefits to ease costs.
- EMDR Therapy: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR, supports trauma recovery through the use of therapist-directed eye movements. The cost is around the same as traditional talk therapy, i.e. $100-200 per session.
- Residential Treatment: When a person needs active treatment for their mental health condition, in a hospital environment, they may enter a residential treatment program. Costs can easily reach many thousands of dollars for this type of hospitalization, although most insurers cover at least some level of inpatient care.
Accessing Care on a Budget
If you’re struggling with how to pay for mental healthcare, the first thing to know is that you’re not alone. The cost of mental health services affects a huge number of Americans, but the good news is that there are more and more options to support people to access mental healthcare on a budget. Here are a few options to consider:
- Talk to your employer – Companies know that healthy workers are better workers. Ask your employer what benefits are available and offer suggestions, such as more mental health leave or discounted yoga classes for employees.
- Check on sliding scales – Some therapists have a sliding scale payment system, wherein people who make less pay less. Even if a therapist doesn’t advertise this pricing system, it can’t hurt to ask and see what’s available.
- Go online – The internet has a plethora of low-cost and free mental health resources. Virtual therapy platforms like Talkspace or BetterHelp are often less expensive than in-person sessions, while apps like MindShift or Moodfit offer free access to science-backed tools and activities.
- Switch up habits to save – If part of your mental health journey involves doing away with unhealthy habits, like drinking too much alcohol, give yourself a financial incentive to avoid the unhealthy activity. Put the money you save on drinks toward a ‘mental health fund’ instead.
- Make a monthly budget – With a monthly budget in place, you’ll be more able to understand where your money is going every month and how you can re-direct it to mental healthcare costs. Check out these Budgeting Basics from HUECU to help you get started.