Exactly How Much I Spent On Mental Health In One Year (And How I Cut Costs Doing It)

Today things are going to get a real at She Spends. We’re talking about mental illness, and the financial stressors it can cause. While we don’t get deep on trauma, this post could be triggering. Just a warning before you dive in!

I’ve been depressed for a long time. The first inklings of it came when I was in sixth grade, having anxiety attacks about getting sick. I went to a therapist then, I figured out how to manage, I moved on. But depression and anxiety kept coming back.

Eventually, I sought help in college and was diagnosed with an eating disorder, depression and anxiety. Since then, I’ve been in and out of varying degrees of therapy and am relatively recovered from the eating disorder. Unfortunately, even with medication and ongoing work in therapy, I am still depressed and anxious. After years, I’ve come to somewhat accept that my brain is wired to be this way. 

While my care was subsidized when I was in college by my university and my parents, I’ve since learned how expensive it can be to take care of depression in the United States. Here is a breakdown of how much I spent in the past year on non-negotiable mental healthcare. These are things that relate directly to treatment, including books recommended by my therapist, supplements to handle ongoing vitamin deficiencies and medication. 

Therapy copays: $1,100
Books: $38.78
Sun Lamp: $32.95
Supplements: $78 (Lola PMS vitamins, calcium, vitamin D)
Antidepressants: $120
Copays for Doctor’s Appointments for Said Antidepressants: $100

Total Spend on Non-Negotiables: $1,469.73

I was both surprised at how much — and how little — it seemed like I spent on my mental healthcare over the past year. I cut costs by going to free group therapy offered in my city each week from January 2017 to June, so the therapy copays are lower than they would be if I had been going the entire year. Additionally, I’m lucky that my prescription for my antidepressant only costs $10 per month. It would be far costlier had I not sought out the generic version of the drug (which is new to the market), and found a coupon online for it. 

The thing here is though, that I know I pay a lot more than $1,469.73 per year on having depression. One of my major symptoms is a struggle to get out of bed in the morning, so unless I’m willing to go to work late, I often forgo making coffee, breakfast and lunch at home. This adds up, and quickly. I’ve worked really hard lately to just fill my coffee mug up in my office kitchen, and to make extra dinner at night to take for lunch, but it doesn’t always work. 

The same principle applies to dinners: in a perfect world, my boyfriend and I would be cooking every night. Some nights, though, I’m too down to do anything but lay on the couch. He picks up the slack sometimes, but he works long hours and we often resort to ordering our favorite Mexican food on Seamless. 

Additionally, I’ve found that exercising, while it doesn’t give me the “endorphins” promised by Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, it does keep me somewhat afloat. So I pay for a gym membership to Blink and ClassPass. 

Of course, none of this ongoing tally can include the emotional spending I do. I used to resort to controlling the food I ate to make myself feel better when I was down. I have since stopped doing that, but I catch myself using similar behaviors to justify spending on clothing or magazines or books or fancy food. I don’t need it, but sometimes I’m in enough pain that I think it could help. Sometimes it does. 

I’m lucky to be in a financial position that all of this has left me relatively unscathed. Sure, my savings rate could be higher if I wasn’t going to therapy each week. I could take another little trip this year if I didn’t order Seamless when I was sad. But I’ve prioritized the spending on my mental health because I believe that all this effort and work amounts to something. It’s not happiness, but it keeps me from the brink. I can go to work, for instance. I have the energy and drive to write She Spends, which honestly is a big deal when you’re depressed. 

I’m writing this not only to share the financial reality of someone living with depression, but also to share some tips that I’ve learned along the way.

The first, and perhaps most effective, is learning how to make your benefits work for you. If you work full-time and have health insurance, you can likely get at least a few therapy sessions for free. Following that, if your copays are low and you can find someone in network, it’s worth going and doing the work. 

If not, you can often find group therapy offerings that are free through something like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Project HEAL, the National Eating Disorder Association or other mental health advocacy groups. I simply searched “free group therapy for women” to find the group I was a part of for the first half of 2017. It was out of the way — roughly an hour and a half on the subway from my home every Thursday night — but it kept me a little calmer than I would have been had I not been going. 

These groups also may offer treatment scholarships. If you’re deep in addiction or an eating disorder, you may be able to receive financial aid to give you the ability to go to an inpatient or partial inpatient program. 

When it comes to medication, there are often discounts available through the drug manufacturer’s website or GoodRx. Check with your insurance company to determine whether the generic version of the drug would be cheaper. 

If you can, head to a general practitioner to get a panel of blood work done. When I did this, I found out that I was severely Vitamin D deficient. This is common among Americans, and can cause some depression. 

I have been helped by many of the books I’ve read about mental health. To cut back on costs, order from ThriftBooks or borrow them from the library on an e-reader. Be wary of borrowing library books if you know you’ll struggle to return them. 

Setting up systems to handle you at your most depressed is also helpful. I have a set of frozen meals hanging out in my freezer right now, ready for the next time that I can’t bring myself to make dinner. Same goes for cans of soup at my desk at work. Some suggest using delivery services for groceries. I literally live a block from a store, and can usually make it that far when I’m down. But for others, this strategy is smart. 

Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive. Work with a therapist to determine what systems you can put in place in your life to take care of things when your mood goes south. If you have other ideas or suggestions, send them our way! We’re all ears for making money easier for those in our community with mental illness. 

--Alicia McElhaney