Mental health is such an important topic that it has an awareness month in May, and an awareness day in October. There continues to be a lot of stigma around mental health, but according to National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) one of the ways to overcome the fears and assumptions about this topic is to talk about it.
Currently in the United States, approximately one in five adults goes through a mental illness at some point in their lives. It’s also estimated that 10 million adults currently live with a serious mental illness. Those numbers are remarkable. However, despite how common it is, many people don’t get the treatment they need.
Barriers to Getting Treatment
For those suffering with mental health issues, there are a couple of major reasons why people don’t seek help: stigma and cost. With mental health stigma, there are two distinct types, social and self.
Social stigmas include the belief that people with mental health problems are dangerous. In particular, this stigma includes those who suffer from schizophrenia, alcoholism and drug dependency. Another negative social belief is that some mental health problems are self-inflicted, like eating disorders and substance abuse. On top of that, some people find it hard to talk to those who suffer with mental health issues.
Self-stigma is when the affected person internalizes these negative social beliefs, leading to feelings of personal shame. It can also result in poorer treatment outcomes.
If you need to talk to someone confidentially about mental health or substance abuse issues, you can call 1-800-662-HELP (4357). The SAMHSA line is free.
Fighting Mental Health Stigma
According to NAMI, there are many ways to fight mental health stigmas, including:
- Talk openly about mental health. This includes talking with your friends and family, and sharing your personal experiences on social media.
- Educate yourself and others. Visit a professional counselor or physician and ask for print materials. You can also use reputable online resources like Psychology Today, National Institute of Mental Health (NIH), and NAMI to learn more. Share your knowledge with those who don’t understand or who are misinformed.
- Show compassion for those with mental illness. One respondent is quoted as saying, “I offer free hugs to people living outdoors, and sit right there and talk with them about their lives. I do this in public, and model compassion for others. Since so many of our homeless population are also struggling with mental illness, the simple act of showing affection can make their day but also remind passersby of something so easily forgotten: the humanity of those who are suffering.” – Rachel Wagner
- Choose empowerment over shame. Live your life and don’t let others impose on you how you feel about yourself.
- Be honest about treatment. It’s okay to tell people that you see a therapist or psychiatrist. Seeing a mental health professional is just as important as seeing a doctor for physical ailments.
For quotes and other tips, read NAMI’s “9 Ways to Fight Mental Health Stigma.”
Seeking Medical Help for Mental Illness
In addition to stigma, cost is the other major factor for people not addressing mental health issues. As of 2014, most individual and small group health insurance plans, including plans sold on the Marketplace are required to cover mental health and substance use disorder services. Nevertheless, the co-pays, deductibles, and other out-of-pocket costs are still a boundary for many people.
However, if you or your spouse has a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) or Health Savings Account (HSA), it can make getting treatment for mental health more affordable. Prescriptions, psychiatric care, specialized care, and other treatments are on the list of eligible expenses.
Remember, in order to qualify as an eligible expense, the IRS says “Medical care expenses must be primarily to alleviate or prevent a physical or mental disability or illness.” The following provides a quick overview of some eligible treatments for mental health.
Seeing a primary care giver is the first step toward diagnosing and treating mental health problems. However, many types of mental illness require expert attention. In addition to prescriptions, seeing a psychiatrist may be part of a treatment plan.
Psychiatrists are typically the ones who prescribe the antidepressants and other types of medications. They may also provide services such as psychotherapy. Psychiatric care and treatments are approved healthcare expenses.
As mentioned above, some mental illnesses are treated with prescription medication, like depression, anxiety, obsessive/compulsive and eating disorders and bi-polar disorder.
Keep in mind that most anti-depressants are available in generic form, and generic prescriptions usually cost less than their brand name counterparts. Talk with your healthcare provider about generic medication options.
Clinical and Counseling Psychologists
Patients with mental health needs can also see a licensed psychologist. A psychologist may run psychological tests and use different forms of behavioral or cognitive therapies with the patient. However, a psychologist cannot prescribe medication.
The American Psychiatric Association lists many addictive disorders as mental health issues. These include alcohol, tobacco and substance abuse (marijuana, opioids, stimulants, etc). Smoking cessation programs and treatments qualify as eligible expenses, as do in- and out-patient treatment for alcoholism and drug addiction. You can even cover the cost of meals and lodging for in-patient treatment, as well as transportation expenses for attending Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or similar recovery groups.
Believe it or not, the practice of acupuncture is commonly used to treat depression, eating disorders and other types of mental illness. You may need a Letter of Medical Necessity from a physician to cover the cost with an FSA or HSA.
Mental health and wellness is an important part of healthcare. Working together, we can help others overcome the stigmas surrounding mental illness and promote better mental healthcare. Be sure to contact your health insurance provider to know what is covered under your policy. You can also consult your benefits administrator or refer to the Summary Plan Description regarding eligible expenses for your company’s FSA or HSA.