Financial Troubles Leading Many To Forgo Mental Health Care

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Psychiatrists and psychologists nationwide say they are seeing more patients limiting mental health treatments to save money amid broad financial concerns, the Wall Street Journal reports. According to the Journal, patients reduce costs by limiting the length of therapy sessions, calling doctors rather than making in-person appointments, attempting to negotiate reduced fees or reducing their medications' dosage to make them last longer.

The Journal reports that the trend of limiting psychological care comes amid a broader trend of people limiting their spending on overall health care. However, previous studies have found that in times of economic crisis -- during which people lose their jobs and subsequently their health insurance -- people tend to "more readily" decrease the amount of mental health care they receive, often with harmful consequences. The studies also found that hospitalizations for mental illnesses and suicides also increase when the economy falters, as people put off treatment "until it's too late," the Journal reports.

Jaine Darwin, a psychologist who teaches at Harvard Medical School, said, "People are in a quandary. The economy is forcing them to decide, 'Do I give up my lifeline?'" People with severe mental illness are the "hardest hit" if they have issues paying for treatment, according to the Journal. However, experts say some people with less severe conditions can reduce the amount of care they receive and not experience any adverse effects, as long as the strategy is supervised by their doctor. "The 'worried well,' who do therapy for personal growth, will generally be OK," Paul Greene, a psychologist and professor at Iona College, said, adding, "The people who concern me are those for whom that therapy helps them to function and earn a living and be good parents."

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The Journal reports that many doctors are willing to negotiate special pricing for patients or offer fees on a sliding scale. In addition, local and national crisis hotlines provide referrals to therapists who accept reduced fees and to community resources (Bernstein, Wall Street Journal, 10/7).

Stress

More than half of U.S. residents report negative health effects from increased stress related to concerns about the economy, according to a poll by the American Psychological Association. The poll surveyed 1,791 adults in August and found that 80% of respondents named the economy as their top stressor and that 46% are worried about their ability to provide for their family. The rates of several symptoms are increasing, including weakening of the immune system, disturbed sleep, raised blood pressure, increased appetite and unhealthy habits, according to Rajita Sinha, director of the Yale University School of Medicine's Stress Center. She said, "We are wired to feel the stress and come up with solutions and solve it," adding, "When uncontrollable stress hits, that's when the stress system starts to go into overdrive" (Jayson, USA Today, 10/7).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. © 2007 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

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