Shining Some Light Into the Darkness: Mental Illness & Healthcare

Regardless of what many people may think, mental health is just as significant as physical health.  Especially within communities of color there is a stigma associated with mental illness and asking for help. I grew up in a household where depression and suicide was deemed issues that only affected privileged and non-religious people. In fact when I revealed to my family that I wanted to see a therapist at age 16 because of a recent suicide attempt, rather than getting any guidance, I was  reprimanded for not having faith in God and told to pray for forgiveness.

This is actually just one reason why I have yet to be officially diagnosed with depression, however, I have been for anxiety back in middle school by the school counselor who recommended that I go see a mental health professional after she witnessed me having a panic attack by my locker one morning. For some context I should note that by age 10 I had already attempted suicide three times. At the time I was struggling with self loathing, part of which had to do with my negative body image at the time, but it was also linked to my family’s homelessness. I don’t usually talk about this mostly because (until quite recently) I believed that this would reflect badly on my family. I became an overachiever, and a perfectionist that would break down at the mere idea of failing because in my mind I had to prove that I deserved love and to live. Failure meant that my existence was a mistake and I was a burden.

This was also when I was introduced to the alternative metal band, Linkin Park.  Having songs like By Myself, Don’t Stay and Numb made me feel like someone understood – something that I desperately wanted at the time. Lyrics like “I can’t hold on to what I want when I’m stretched so thin /It’s all too much to take in / I can’t hold on to end things watching everything spin / With thoughts of failure sinking in,” gave a voice to everything I was feeling that I couldn’t find a way to share with anyone. (To say I was obsessed with the band would be putting it mildly, their music and genre lead to my current taste in music which I will talk about in a future post.)  It may sound cliché but the emotion behind those songs just helped me kept pushing even at my lowest points because it proved that my feelings were valid and that I wasn’t alone.

Through cognitive  behavior modification, I did manage to work through my anxiety, during which time I actually moved on to listening to other bands, only going back to Linkin Park whenever I really needed them.  After all, anxiety and depression doesn’t  just disappear and there are times when your mind will take you right back to the same dark places you once left as if no progress was ever made. Fast forward to July 20, 2017. I was eating lunch with some co-workers when the news broke that the lead singer and songwriter of Linkin Park, Chester Bennington had committed suicide. We were devastated. Here was a man that opened himself up in order to help others not lose themselves in the dark spaces of their minds, who ended up lost himself.

That day at the office was the first time that I had the urge to cry at a celebrity death which is why I was happy that I had like-minded people around me that day to talk through the news. In our discussion the topic of mental health-care came up. Sure, talking things out with family and friends is helpful, yet there are times when you just need that extra professional help, which was something I always believed myself to be priced out off due to my low income, but, as I learned that July afternoon, it turns out I was mistaken. So I sat down with my friend and co-worker, Marjorie,  who actually worked in health insurance for two years, in order to learn more about what is covered for those of us that may not have the means to pay for services out of pocket. I hope that this information helps anyone that has been looking for resources to get the treatment and care they need.

Disclaimer : The following insurance coverage is only in reference to how things are outlined under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Should our current administration manage to repeal ACA it is very likely that there will be many changes when it comes to mental healthcare. 

1.) Mental Health is covered as primary care.

ACA treats mental health just like a physical check-up which is great because it helps take away the stigma about the whole thing.  For the most part a visit to a mental health professional is free as long as it is done as an outpatient. In speaking to Marjorie, I learned that there is a chance that it could come with a cost but at most it will be about $30 a visit. The best thing to do is to check your statement of insurance benefits and there should be a mental health section as well as a substance abuse section that will outline what exactly is covered.

Depending on your insurance, there is no limit as to the number of visits you can make and you don’t need a referral in order to get the help you need.  (In the past it used to be that one would need to wait for a primary care physician to suggest seeing a therapist. This stipulation is what used to stop people from getting the help they needed.) That being said, if one has need to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital or inpatient services it comes out of pocket and the cost of that can vary.

2.) Starting from age 12, the confidentiality of your sessions are protected by law.

If you are a minor and find that you need to speak to someone, you totally can without fear since these kinds of sessions are confidential. The only kind of documentation parents can receive is a statement regarding doctor visits, something along the lines of , “ ____ had a doctor visit on this day,” but  with no further details. It is up to the minor to talk to parents or guardians. Even if they reach out to the insurance company regarding any charge, they can’t relay any details regarding the kind treatment rece

3.) Medication, like anti-depressants, are covered.

Just like with your physical health, there may be times when prescription meds are necessary and this is also covered by most insurances. Depending on the mental disorder medications such as antidepressants, mood stabilizers and stimulants maybe prescribed by a mental health professional.  As these are controlled substances, higher dosages will require notice from a doctor to set up “step-therapy.” This is basically increasing or decreasing your dosage until the one that works best is found.

4.) Therapy is now mobile!*

We live in an age that anything we need is readily available for us at the touch of a button thanks to the internet and smartphones – apparently the same goes for mental health. Therapy and counseling apps are now on the rise and can be of great help if you need an impartial view on a situation or just space to talk things out with someone at anytime. One that Marjorie highly recommended was Talkspace as this service pairs you with a a licensed therapist based on your information when you register.  This app also allows you to have someone check on you everyday, even if you don’t call in – you call them or they call you either way. They also have text options if you don’t want to talk on the phone.

Ever since Chester’s death was announced, I have gone back to re-listening to his band’s songs , even catching up on those that I missed, like the title song from their recently released album called, One More Light. It is a lot softer than the LP songs that got me through my teenage years, and yet what makes it a significant to me is the fact that it speaks a lot to the legacy he leaves behind – the need to give a voice to the voiceless and to listen to what those voices are saying. Those of us that struggle with depression and anxiety are often seen as “lazy attention-seekers” who just need to “stop being so sad,” as people fail to understand that these are in fact illnesses.  And it’s only worse if you’re like me, have a habit of putting others ahead of yourself while suffering alone in silence. The increased awareness  and accessibility of healthcare is making me hopeful that this bias will soon be a thing of the past.

*Note: If you or someone you know need to speak to anyone immediately, there is free and confidential help you can receive 24 hours a day from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. All you have to do is call 1-800-273-8255. 

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