Real-Talk: Mental Health is Too Expensive

the only option that felt right for me was therapy

$200. It's a lot of money. It's a good chunk of my monthly rent, and it's about how much my husband and I need to feed ourselves every 30 days. It's also worth one hour. One hour of someone listening to me talk about my struggles and provide me with productive options for how to overcome those struggles. It costs $200 for one private session with a therapist. In other words, it's $800 per month to maintain regular or weekly discussions with a certified professional about my mental health. That's 20% of my monthly income — and I (a privileged white female) am a part of the upper middle class in Canada. Which means those that are not considered middle class would need to have over 20% of discretionary income every month just to seek help for their mental health.

Let's talk about mental health. Yes — more. Yes — again.

It's that taboo topic we used to avoid, and now we talk about as much as possible. We have finally brought some serious topics of conversation into the light, and I am thrilled. However, the one thing we have forgotten to talk about is the unaffordability of what those suffering from mental health issues need. Cost. It's too expensive to seek help.

To be perfectly honest with you — I've been struggling to write this piece all month. I've been telling myself that it's too personal, or too hard to explain, or that I'd probably say something wrong even though I have the best intentions. But then I remembered that writing about stuff like this is why I have a blog in the first place. Whether it helps or harms what my readers think of me, it's important that I get it off my chest.

You see, if you've been reading my blog for the past year, you'll know that I've touched base on my personal experiences with mental health. Almost a year ago, I started to face a lot of struggles. I was sad all the time, and I didn't know why. Situations that I used to be comfortable in started to become difficult. I felt guilty because from anyone else's perspective I should have nothing to complain about. However, it wasn't going away. In fact, it was getting worse.

After seeking help from friends and being faced with the realization that I was putting myself in danger by avoiding the problem, the only option that felt right for me was therapy. I did some research, asked friends for suggestions, and booked an appointment that day.

My personal experience with therapy

The first thing I noticed when I booked my appointment was that one hour with a therapist was going to cost me $200. However, as someone who always has a little bit of cushion in her budget, I knew that the price tag was worthwhile. One week later, as much as I didn't want to go to the appointment, I did. I spent an hour telling a complete stranger about all of the thoughts in my head that I would never tell anyone else. I left the appointment feeling drained, but relieved. Over the next five months, I had an appointment every two weeks to keep myself in check and also because it seemed a lot more affordable than once a week.

In total, I attended six appointments (after cancelling quite a few because I'm a chicken) and spent $1,200. Four of those meetings were luckily covered through my work's health insurance program that I paid for. Two of them were not. I'm fortunate and thankful for that.

However, at my sixth and final appointment with my therapist, I was told that she would be closing her practice within one months time. I played it off like it wasn't a big deal when she told me, but as soon as we were done, I was devastated. Finally feeling like I was making progress, I realized that I couldn't bear to start over with someone else and find another therapist who would understand what I needed. I also got angry. I had spent a lot of money building a relationship with someone who could stop our progress just like that. Within one of our hour-long sessions that I was paying for. Why is it so expensive to attend appointments that are clearly so disposable?

Why aren't there more affordable options — for everyone?

Some important things to mention (before I go on another rant) is that there are more affordable options for those seeking help for their mental health issues. Some medical clinics and hospitals provide counselling at no cost. There are plenty of affordable options for students K-12 and also for those attending post-secondary institutions. There are some group counselling options available depending on where you are located, and there are some service-agencies that price their sessions on a sliding scale according to income levels. There are options.

I am also aware that I did choose the most expensive option. I chose this option because I could afford to. I chose this option because I wasn't comfortable attending group sessions. I chose this option because I am not a student. I chose this option because I wanted to. So, why the hell am I (someone who can pay for this opportunity) still complaining? Great question.

Everyone should be able to access private counselling at an affordable rate. Just because I have graduated from school doesn't mean that my mental health is secure. Just because I would like to seek help for my mental health doesn't mean that my choice for help will be counselling or therapy. Just because I have an extra $200 in my bank account doesn't mean it should have to be spent on an hour-long session that might not accomplish anything.

Some statistics from Canadian Centre for Addiction and Mental Health:

  • "Mental illness accounts for about 10% of the burden of disease in Ontario; it receives just 7% of health care dollars. Relative to this burden, mental health care in Ontario is underfunded by about $1.5 billion."

  • "Only about half of Canadians experiencing a major depressive episode receive ‘‘potentially adequate care."

  • "The economic burden of mental illness in Canada is estimated at $51 billion per year. This includes health care costs, lost productivity, and reductions in health-related quality of life."

  • "In any given week, at least 500,000 employed Canadians are unable to work due to mental health problems. This includes:

    • approximately 355,000 disability cases due to mental and behavioural disorders

    • approximately 175,000 full-time workers absent from work due to mental illness."

What are some options you may not know about? 

Thankfully, I'm not alone in seeing that mental health care is not as accessible or as affordable as it should be. Digital therapy is becoming more prevalent in healthcare these days. American companies such as betterhelp and talkspace offer online counselling by paying a monthly or weekly membership rather than a session by session fee.

Although super cool, I can completely relate to those who need the face to face contact or would prefer not to talk to anyone at all. For those of us who would prefer to do worksheets or modules on our own, heretohelp, a group of seven mental health and addictions non-profit agencies in BC has free information sheets, modules and journals that are all available on their site.

As frustrating as it is to see how costly it can be to seek help for your struggles or hardships, I can say from personal experience that it's always worthwhile. I so badly want to work towards helping mental health become less of a buzzword and more of a real and accessible option for all Canadians. Not just those of us who can afford it.

I know that writing this blog post about it isn't helping anyone find an affordable counsellor in an instant. But it is me providing another discussion point we tend to forget about mental health other than the fact that we need to talk about it. We also need to take action.

What is your personal opinion on the accessibility and affordability of mental health support in your city or country? Let me know in the comments.