States may be trimming their mental health budgets, but you can still find psychological care that’s affordable and effective.
From the maxed-out mom who finds comfort in a community support group to the recent retiree who needs help pinpointing the source of his blues, access to adequate, affordable treatment is essential for millions of Americans with mental health concerns. But with state budget cuts threatening local services and programs across the country, the people who need these services most could see their support systems disappear.
A recent report from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) found that more than half of Americans with mental and emotional issues don’t get help — and that number is only expected to grow as states slash their mental health care budgets in response to growing deficits. The 10 states with the biggest cuts over the last two years are:
- Alaska (35 percent)
- South Carolina and Arizona (23 percent)
- Washington, D.C. (19 percent)
- Nevada (17 percent)
- Kansas and California (16 percent)
- Illinois and Mississippi (15 percent)
- Hawaii (12 percent)
Worse, mental health care shortages are expected to deepen in 2011 and 2012.
“When policy makers are forced to make difficult decisions on spending cuts, mental health funding seems to be an easy target,” says Ruth Wolever, PhD, a clinical health psychologist and the research director of Duke Integrative Medicine.
What such changes translate to: Services and programs vital to Americans with mental health issues are getting downsized or eliminated, including community mental health centers, alcohol and drug abuse treatment centers, crisis centers, beds in psychiatric hospitals, and psychiatrists and social workers on staff at these facilities.
Unfortunately, as mental health care budgets shrink, the need for such services is greater than ever, according to NAMI. Ongoing economic distress has lead to moredepression, anxiety, and other mental health issues while reducing people’s ability to pay for treatment. Troops returning home from war also require services to treat such issues as PTSD.
But if you need mental health attention and you can’t afford it, the last thing you should do is nothing.
Even though budget cuts abound, there are still plenty of inexpensive ways to get the help you need. First, decode your health insurance. It’s important to understand your insurance policy — copayments, costs of coverage, and the doctors covered vary from plan to plan. The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 mandates that all group health plans provide mental health benefits, but most of them still require patients to foot a portion of the bill for therapy.
If you are having trouble affording therapy sessions or don’t have health insurance, then consider these affordable alternatives.
- Start with your community health center. While it’s true that community mental health centers are feeling the brunt of budget cuts, they’re still a good place to start, says Dr. Wolever. Most of these state agencies offer low-cost consultations and inpatient/outpatient services. To find one near you, try theSubstance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration’s (SAMHSA) Mental Health Locator.
- Go grassroots. Mental health organizations, such as NAMI and Mental Health America (MHA) have made it their mission to help every American find a mental health care solution. These grassroots advocacy organizations have local affiliates spanning all states — they’re generally small groups that can assist you in identifying local, low-cost treatment. They can answer questions about insurance policies, provide doctor referrals, and more. Find a local NAMI branch or a local MHA affiliate.
- Check out a nearby college. If your alma mater or a local university offers graduate training programs in psychology, psychiatry, social work, or counseling, they also probably provide mental health services to the community for reduced fees. Here, you’d meet with a student in training under the direct supervision of a licensed faculty member.
- Give group therapy a try. Some providers offer group therapy as a more affordable alternative to one-on-one sessions. If you currently have a therapist, ask him if he offers group sessions, or find a certified group therapist in your area by using American Group Psychotherapy Association’s locator.
- Ask about sliding fees. Wolever suggests contacting your state’s licensing boards for referrals for providers who offer sliding fee structures — payments that are determined by your level of income. If you already have a therapist, let him know about your financial concerns and see if he can work out a payment plan.
- Consider disability. If your health concern is significantly impairing your work, you may be eligible for disability benefits — income support payments throughSocial Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). To qualify, you’ll need to prove that your mental illness has hindered your ability to keep a job, says Wolever.