We all know we need to take care of our health. Sometimes, that means tending to our mental health. Whether it’s therapy, medication, or both, getting professional help can be costly. Many of us avoid the subject, quietly struggling to get by day to day.
A few years ago, that was me. I was in a deep depression, and I could barely keep it together. Waking up and choosing to get on with my day was as big a challenge as climbing a mountain on crutches.
My Difficulties Dealing With Depression
I had just moved across the country to be with my partner in a new city. But I was struggling to find full-time work. I was also dealing with the financial aftermath of going to my dream school.
What’s more, I had massive student loan debt with little income to pay for it all. I was having a hard time adjusting to the “real” world outside of grad school in a city that didn’t feel right for me.
Things that shouldn’t have been a big deal felt enormous. After realizing I wasn’t coping very well with all the change and stress in my life, I decided to go to therapy to have the expertise of an impartial third party.
The problem? I was uninsured and the cost of therapy out-of-pocket was close to $100 per hour at the time. In bigger cities, it can be two or three times that.
When you’re depressed and are unable to afford help, it feels like salt in the wound.
Nonetheless, I was determined to find a solution. After doing some research, I found out that the local graduate counseling program offered community clinics. They were open to anyone, and their sessions were $15 an hour. At the time, I was underemployed and on food stamps. So I called and asked if there was any flexibility with the payment.
When they said they could see me for $5 per session, it felt like a miracle. At that moment, I realized something important: Most things are negotiable if you ask.
The Importance of Mental Health
Now I firmly believe people should budget for their mental health — whatever that means to them. It could range from therapy and medication to yoga and tea. The point is that our minds are where we live. Our thoughts create our world, and when our thoughts are dark, so is everything else.
Budgeting for your mental health is vitally important. Many people might think it’s unnecessary or feel ashamed about the stigma that mental illness still carries with some. Don’t listen to unconstructive noise. Addressing your mental health can have financial benefits as well.
“Spending money on your mental health can have a number of positive effects on your life, including your financial bottom line,” says Amanda Clayman, a financial therapist.
“Addressing mental health issues like anxiety, depression, and chronic stress can have a positive impact on your physical health,” she continues. “Reducing absenteeism and underperformance ultimately help ensure your income and job security or chances of advancement.”
Budgeting for Your Mental Health
But how much should you budget for mental health? And more importantly, how can you save money on something that can be so expensive or deemed unnecessary?
First, assess what you need right now. If you need professional help, start saving money each month so you can afford it.
In order to save money, I recommend that people look for counseling services at local schools. Look into community centers and religious institutions first. Going to counseling at the local graduate school helped me, and it didn’t seem much different from the licensed professionals I had previously worked with.
There’s also a number of online resources you can use to find affordable counseling. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) offers resources for finding affordable help. Many of the professionals in its Therapist Directory offer a sliding scale for payment (ask when you call or visit for a consultation). Additionally, it has a directory of Federally Funded Health Centers, which operate on a “pay what you can” system based on your income.
While seeking out therapy on the cheap, maybe consider your own relationship with money, and whether it informs your anxiety or depression. If you find yourself saving compulsively, ignoring your own financial problems entirely, or hiding your finances from your partner, you may benefit from seeing a financial therapist.
Know Your Insurance
It’s also important to check your benefits with your insurance company.
“In order to save money on mental health, make sure you’re clear on what your mental health benefits are if you have them through your insurance company,” Clayman says.
“Often you can see an in-network psychotherapist for just a copay, even though you may be limited to a certain number of covered sessions. If you want to work with someone outside of your network, make sure you ask if they offer a sliding scale,” she continues.
The Bottom Line
Though people don’t often bring it up in budgeting conversations, your mental health deserves to be a line item. It influences all aspects of your life, so why not save money to keep you happy and healthy?
Additional reporting by Connor Beckett McInerney.