How to Work Mental Health Costs Into Your Monthly Budget

For the 50% of us who need mental health treatment but don't seek it, cost is a major reason why. Here's how to get the mental support you deserve.

Around the world, about 50% of people with clinical-level mental health concerns don't seek professional help for their symptoms or condition. It's a startling statistic, especially in the face of an American Psychological Association report from October 2020, sounding the alarm about a national mental health crisis stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

There have always been barriers that keep people from the assistance they need: stigma, time, lack of access, and the belief that mental illness can be treated without professional help. But among these commonly cited reasons, cost remains a major hurdle—particularly for those who want mental health support.

According to The Mental Health Million Project, a study conducted by the nonprofit research organization Sapien Labs, about 1 in 5 respondents noted affordability as the main deterrent when considering mental health services.

"I wish people would view their mental health as they would their physical health," Myisha Jackson, a licensed professional counselor based in Louisiana, tells Health. Expensive bills for physical health are expected, but paying for mental care is seen as a luxury—and it shouldn't be.

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Ironically, not addressing mental wellness can be detrimental to your financial wellness. "You can have all the money in the world, but it ultimately doesn't matter if you're not happy, healthy, and taking care of yourself," Brittney Castro, a certified financial planner with Mint, tells Health.

According to the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, an independent charity that helps people with mental health issues avoid financial difficulty, those with problem debt (aka, people who can't afford debt repayments) are more likely to experience mental health struggles. Conversely, people with mental health struggles are more likely to experience problem debt. It can easily become a vicious cycle if not addressed.

"Your mental well-being is a key pillar of health and wealth, so it's important not to negate it," Castro says. If you're struggling with your mental health but have been putting off getting help because you don't think you can afford it, here are some solid options.

Expensive bills for physical health are expected, but paying for mental care is seen as a luxury—and it shouldn't be.

Fitting mental health care into your budget

Luckily, many insurance companies do cover the cost of mental health treatment. "It's beneficial to look at your insurance company to see what mental health services they cover," Sarah Fogel, a Connecticut-based licensed clinical social worker, tells Health. Online directories like Alma, Headway, and GrowTherapy can be useful for finding in-network care.

If your insurance company only covers part of the fee—or none if it, or you don't have health insurance—fitting these costs into your life may mean cutting back in other areas. "Most people are unnecessarily spending; they have no idea where they're putting their money," Castro explains. She recommends tracking your spending with an app or manually and setting weekly "money dates" to check in and evaluate where your money is going.

"Shifting around your budget is really a balancing act," Castro says. If you're eating out multiple times a week, maybe you bring it down to once or twice. If you like to shop, you could set a spending limit for the month for non-essentials and use any extra towards mental health services.

It can be beneficial to work toward a specific savings goal—for example, the cost of three months of therapy or a certain number of therapy sessions. If you're open about your budget, timeframe, and goals, many therapists can work with those constraints. "I do have clients that I come in and I work with them for three or four months," Jackson explains. "They may have a goal or something that they're struggling with, and we'll get it done."

Ultimately, having a plan for your money is the most important. The only way to do this is to assess your whole financial picture. If there's just no room for additional spending, think about ways to boost your income to cover that cost. "Sometimes there is only so much we can cut back on until we can't," Castro says, She advises asking yourself where you can find more opportunities or creative solutions to make some extra money.

Lower-cost options for mental health services

No matter what you can afford, there are resources and care options that fit within that price point. Jackson recommends looking into Open Path Collective, where all sessions cost between $30 and $60.

"I also encourage people to go to the local university, because there are always counseling students who need hours," she says, noting this service is often free or inexpensive, and all the students are highly supervised. The same goes for teaching hospitals. "Typically they have a resident clinic," Fogel explains, "that goes for medical care and psychiatric care."

Potential patients can also look into employee assistance programs, group therapy, or support groups like those offered free through The National Alliance on Mental Illness and United Way. Many providers offer sliding scales and reduced costs depending on your financial situation.

"I think it's really helpful when clients are upfront," Fogel says, noting that most providers won't be offended if you are open about any budgetary concerns.

If you can only afford one counseling session per month, for example, "ask your therapist for homework," Fogel shares. Journaling, downloading self-help apps, or doing meditations can also be free ways to address challenges you're facing if you can't meet with a professional as regularly as you'd like.

"What I say to most of my clients is, just make five minutes a day for yourself," Fogel says. "It will support all of the other work that you're doing."

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