Saving for the Future and Repaying Debt Shouldn’t Cost You Your Present Health and Wellbeing Series: Part II
Mental health maintenance (primarily therapy) has a reputation for being prohibitively expensive, or only a luxury budget item for people who have enough disposable time and income to pay someone to “just listen to their problems.” (Ever hear “depression is a rich person’s disease?” Pfh.) Which first of all, don’t even send me down the rabbit hole on the usefulness of therapy for all peeps, because we’ll be here all day. ALL Y’ALL NEED THERAPY DON’T @ ME. However, some people need regular mental health maintenance, including therapy, consisently and urgently, and that’s primarily who I’m addressing today.
ALL Y'ALL NEED THERAPY DON'T @ ME.
Mental Health Maintenance Costs Are Not Optional in My Budget
One thing I’ve learned in my own life over the past few years: mental health maintenance costs are. not. optional. in. my. budget. It’s easy to look at the potential cost of therapy, medications, or dietary supplements and feel like the costs can’t be justified when it doesn’t *seem* like a necessity, but debt repayment and wealth building require stamina and focus, both of which require you to be in your best frame of mind. If you face mental health issues, leaving them untreated is an irresponsible way to tackle your financial goals and will probably derail you at some point. Basically, for you, it’s a necessity. It’s as important as insulin to a diabetic or food, or transportation, or a roof over your head.
I’m serious, y’all. If I hadn’t gotten a handle on my mental health, I can guarantee you my life and my finances would be a lot messier than they are now. This has at times required risky financial commitment in the face of both job instability and pushing through being generally pissed off that I have to spend money every week to sit in a room and be tortured emotionally until some mythical, future, more refined me emerges from the fire. But I can now tell you that it is worth whatever cost to my financial independence timeline to have the tools I need today to maintain mental wellbeing.
I started taking my mental health seriously about two years ago. Before that, I didn’t feel like I could afford it or afford to take the time out of my workday for things like therapy. I was also resistant to admitting that I needed to put serious work into this area of my life (for obvious reasons – working on mental and emotional health is often draining and can be stigmatized, especially in my career). But one day, I woke up and realized the costs of the symptoms of my anxiety (which were intrusive to my life, but not nearly as bad as many people's) were higher than any costs associated with dealing with and improving it. I wish I had started sooner and prioritized the costs in my budget and schedule no matter what that took.
Over the past two years, I have consistently seen a therapist and used medications and dietary supplements that decrease my symptoms without causing strange side effects. I’m now building a high-frequency fitness regimen, and I’m focusing on eating well as much as possible (beach bod + low anxiety: #lifegoals). There are days when it feels like nothing is working, but I’ve seen measurable progress over time and that keeps me motivated. In the past months, I have had entire weeks that were basically symptom-free, which frankly I didn’t know what to do with! I know my triggers for anxiety, and I’ve learned to deal with them a lot better (although that does sometimes mean leaning into, rather than fighting, those feelings). It can be a slow process that doesn’t seem to yield results for a long. time….but one week, you’ll wake up and see progress. Mental health maintenance is lifelong, but it can’t improve until you start putting in the work.
What I’m saying is, if you have mental health issues that interfere with your ability to function in your daily life even occasionally, DO NOT BLOW OFF TREATMENT BECAUSE IT WILL COST MONEY. Again, your debt can wait if the alternative is ignoring your mental health. If you don’t care for your mental and emotional wellbeing when you need to, you risk so much more than a little bit of credit card debt. In fact, view it as a parallel journey to your financial one. Staying on track with mental wellbeing will propel your financial journey as well!
If you face mental health issues, leaving them untreated is an irresponsible way to tackle your financial goals and will probably derail you at some point.
So let’s talk about what maintaining your mental wellbeing might cost, starting with a list of expenses you should categorize as mental health necessities.
I’m speaking in broad terms here about mental health costs, so these costs will apply best to those who experience run-of-the-mill anxiety or depression. Other mental health diagnoses may require additional expenses or types of treatment that I’m not going to discuss, so adjust according to you and your family’s actual situations. Also, I am not a mental health professional, so please forgive me if this isn’t perfect clinical information. I am sharing what has worked for me and discussing fairly commonly suggested remedies for anxiety and depression. Obviously work with doctors you trust to determine a specific routine for yourself.
Things I Would Consider “Mental Health” Expenses:
Prescription Medications & Dietary Supplements
My personal cost breakdown is:
Medicines & Supplements $45/mo
Doctor Appointments for Medicines: $60/year
Beneficial, but not specifically mental-health related:
Fitness ~$900/mo (Gym membership + 8 Personal Training sessions)
Diet ~$200/mo groceries
As you can see, my total necessary mental health costs that are separate from general life costs that benefit mental health are between $165-225/mo, depending on how many times I see my therapist. The fitness and diet costs would exist anyway, but my mental wellbeing requires them, which makes them even less negotiable in my budget.
These monthly Basic Mental Health Maintenance costs may seem steep, so if you need to maintain or improve your mental health while sticking to a tight budget, try listing therapy, exercise and medication costs as needs in your budget and cutting elsewhere before lowering your mental health costs. If you can’t afford weekly therapy, try biweekly or monthly and see how that looks in your budget. Actually doing something consistently is more important than frequency, all else equal.
Therapists Can Be Affordable: Here's How
I answer the question “Why do you have a therapist?” with “Why don’t you have a therapist?” Even if you don’t have anxiety or depression, pretty much everyone on this planet has been screwed up or screwed over by someone and has at least one (and probably like, a million) unhealthy coping mechanisms for something. I can’t begin to tell you what yours is, but I can tell you it exists. See above (ALL Y’ALL NEED THERAPY DON’T @ ME) Some of the best marriage advice I’ve gotten (I’m not married so if you’re a single dude reading this post about my mental health and think “that’s the girl for me”, holla!) is to see a counselor at least once a year throughout your marriage - even if you have “no issues”- just to have a neutral third party to guide discussions on what is or isn’t working and where you’d like to improve and sustain in future years. Same on an individual level – you may be pretty well-adjusted, but seeing a therapist every so often just to improve your already-awesome people skills or catch any issues before they truly develop is smart self-care and worth building into your life.
For those of you who do have anxiety, depression, or any kind of major personal or interpersonal issues, a therapist is NE-CE-SSARY. I’ve been in a variety of health insurance situations, from an ACA plan with unlimited $10 therapist visits to a high-deductible plan that my therapist didn’t accept. A lot of people don’t know that mental health is covered under all ACA-approved insurance plans, but it absolutely is, and many therapists accept insurance. Unless you have a high-deductible plan or live in a very rural area, you can almost definitely find an affordable therapist through your insurance plan. I currently pay a $30 copay per visit to my therapist. We meet 4-6 times per month, depending on my schedule.
If you’re concerned about the cost of therapy, there are definitely affordable options, and you should consider planning your 2019 health insurance in such a way that it will cover therapy as inexpensively as possible if you need it regularly. My favorite resource for finding someone is Psychology Today’s AMAZING therapist directory, Find a Therapist. It sorts professionals by their specialties, location, and best of all, accepted insurance providers (!!!). It’s available for the US, UK, and Canada. I found my first therapist from this site, and she was legit. Just filter for your area and insurance provider and contact a couple that seem most promising. Check with your current insurance provider for copay/costs (and also check with them for out-of-network coverage specifics. Sometimes you can still get partially covered that way. I’ll be talking about that more in my health insurance post for this series). There are also clinics in some cities for lower-income people. Look around for those to see if you qualify!
Medications & Dietary Supplements:
If you need medication, it is easy to succumb to the financial temptation of relying only on your prescriptions to maintain your physical health. Pills are usually cheaper than therapy, right? But literally all depression/anxiety/other psychotropic medications work best in conjunction with therapy, exercise and a good diet. I have prescriptions that have improved my life, but they only work super well when I’m doing all those other things as well. These medicines cost me $10-15/month.
I also take a couple of dietary supplements like Vitamin D and l methyl folate at the suggestion of my doctor (I AM NOT A DOCTOR) that have been proven to help with mood and reduce anxiety. These cost me about $35/month. Don't take these without talking to a doctor first (thanks for looking out for me on fat-soluble vitamin overdose risks, @stephtheblogger!)
I've already covered why I think fitness costs are an important line item for everyone to keep in their budgets (in Tuesday's post), but y’all, if you have any kind of basic mental health issue, fitness is usually a crucial part of minimizing symptoms. For those of you who have heard mental health skeptics tell you to “just take a run; you’ll feel better!” – that’s obviously dismissive and is not the sole solution to most peoples’ depression or anxiety, but regular physical activity is a critical part of treatment that you need to include with any medication and therapy. My post about spending on fitness applies doubly to those of you with mental health issues.
Diet speaks for itself – eating whole foods as much as possible instead of processed foods is better for you all around. Eating well might not solve your mental health issues, but eating badly will certainly exacerbate them.
Sometimes people with anxiety, depression or other mental issues will have trouble completing even simple tasks, even when they are receiving treatment and managing their symptoms responsibly. If you need to build these costs into your budget and have the income to do it, don’t feel guilty. This could be regular cleaning service, having someone wash the dog, or ordering dinner for the family more often than you’d like. If you have never struggled from overwhelming anxiety or depression symptoms, this may seem easy to overcome, or like a lazy, wasteful use of money that could be better spent anywhere else. I mean, mend your own clothes, Janet, geez. But talk to someone who’s been there if you’re skeptical. Sometimes getting off the couch is next to impossible. Wise Mind Money had a great self-care list this week that speaks to this point about convenience costs sometimes being self-care. Lots of things on her list don’t even cost money! (I'm sorry I link so much of your stuff @wisemindmoney...it all just goes so well with my topics! Ha.)
That said, if you aren’t taking care of yourself with true mental health treatment, you should focus adding that to your budget before paying someone to clean your toilets in the name of mental health.
Mental Health Maintenance Costs Should be Non-Negotiable If You Need It
Basically, if you’ve ever been willing to take on a car payment, you should be willing to work at least that amount into your budget for mental health each month if you need it. Seriously. And you may not even need that much! Working on yourself and taking care of your mental health will never not be worth the cost, no matter how many dinners out you may forego in the process. Trust me.
How do y’all take care of your mental health, whether preventive or responsive to a specific mental health issue? Have you ever avoided maintenance only to regret it later? Let me know your thoughts!
Next Post in the Series (Probs): Healthcare Cost Breakdowns & Strategies & Why You Should Never Pay the Healthcare Penalty