The cost of living is high, finances are tight and Americans are cutting back their spending. In some cases, that means skipping mental-health treatment.
A third of Americans have canceled therapy sessions because of out-of-pocket costs and 39% reported that they have reduced the frequency of therapy sessions to save money, according to a new Cost of Therapy survey by Verywell Mind, a mental-health publication whose articles are reviewed by board-certified doctors and mental health experts.
Some 31% of respondents reported that they had paused their mental-health treatments “to save money for other, larger expenses.”
Eight in 10 people said going to therapy was a good investment, but 40% of those surveyed reported that they needed financial support to attend therapy, the survey found.
Although most (71%) of those surveyed said insurance covered at least some of their mental-health costs, 62% said they still had to pay out-of-pocket expenses for treatment. The average out-of-pocket costs for treatment totaled $178 per month, the survey found.
The findings come as Americans’ mental health has deteriorated, especially among young people. President Joe Biden announced steps earlier this year to address the “unprecedented mental health crisis among people of all ages,” noting that two out of five adults had reported symptoms of depression or anxiety.
Paying for mental-health treatment has become more difficult in part because the indirect costs related to therapy have increased, said Amy Morin, the editor-in-chief of Verywell Mind and a licensed clinical social worker.
“The gas money that it takes to drive to see the therapist, the money for babysitters has gone up,” Morin said. “So even though somebody might say, I have insurance that covers my session, and maybe I have a $20 copay, the cost to go to therapy can still be really expensive, and not to mention, people who have to miss work in order to go see their treatment provider.”
Inflation hit a 40-year high in May, with consumer prices increasing 8.6% since last year. Gas prices have risen in part because of the war in Ukraine, reaching a record-high national average of $5.03 per gallon on June 16; they edged down to $4.80 per gallon Wednesday. At the same time, childcare costs have been rising as a result of mass closures of daycare centers during the pandemic and a national labor shortage, just as many parents are preparing to go back to offices.
Americans are changing their spending habits as well as their lifestyles to adjust to the rising costs of living, including by changing their diets to include cheaper proteins such as beans to avoid spending money on meat.
Americans’ struggles to pay for mental health care come at a time when they need treatment more than ever, said Rebecca Brendel, the president of the American Psychiatric Association.
“Americans are more worried about their mental health than they have been in quite some time, and the numbers of Americans showing severe signs of mental health crisis are higher,” Brendel said.
The country saw an unprecedented number of drug overdoses last year, with drug overdose deaths growing by almost 30%, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Americans are looking for mental health treatment but often, they can’t find it, Brendel said, because there’s been a surge in need during the pandemic and COVID-19 disrupted many of the community resources people used previously.
Mental illnesses and substance use disorders affected around one-third of nonelderly Americans in 2020, or about 64.5 million people, according to a study by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation. The issues were most prevalent among white people and teenagers. The report pointed out that lower rates of mental illness and substance-use disorders among people of color could be a result of underdiagnosis, likely due to racial bias and lack of access to care.
Although there has been a law for more than a decade requiring insurers to make mental health care available at the same cost as all other medical treatments, insurers have struggled to comply with it, Brendel said.
“What we really need to be focused on is how we can make high-quality evidence-based, affordable and accessible mental health care something that every American has access to,” Brendel said.
A spokesperson from the American Psychological Association, a national association of psychologists, said it encourages patients to work with their therapists to find strategies to make care affordable. Options include considering a shorter course of treatment or focusing on a subset of goals.
Online therapy sessions can be a good option for those who want to limit indirect costs such as paying for gas or babysitting, Morin said. Instead of driving to a therapist’s office and potentially having to find a babysitter to care for their children when they are away, parents can do the therapy sessions in the living room on their computers, Morin said. Telehealth sessions are also usually cheaper than in-person ones, she said.
For those who have budget concerns or don’t know where to look for the best options, Morin said turning to one’s primary care physician is always a good place to start.
“Some doctor’s offices these days have clinical social workers right in the office,” Morin said. “They may refer you to somebody and if finances are tight and you’re not sure how to pay for it, they can help you with local community resources.” Doctors also might know of support groups that are free of charge or therapists that charge on a sliding scale, which can make mental health treatment much more affordable.