If you’re anything like us, you’re reading this message while at your desk with your third cup of coffee. You’re worrying about deadlines and appointments; you probably didn’t get enough sleep last night. In short, you’re experiencing stress. There’s ample medical evidence to show that stress and unhappiness make you more vulnerable to a long list of health issues, ranging from minor conditions like hay fever to major ones like a heart attack.
Mental Health (And De-Stressing) Belongs Your Budget
Whether your mental health needs revolve around de-stressing activities like yoga or visits to a therapist, the costs can rack up. Budgeting now for your mental health will help you prevent unpleasant (and expensive) health consequences later on. According to Dr. Mary Gresham, an Atlanta psychologist and expert on financial psychology, quality of life ratings have shown that patients are 32 times happier because they spent money on therapy than if they spent the same money on other things.
Caring For Mental Health Can Bring You Financial Gain
Of course, your "returns" will vary greatly depending on your situation. But, say, you worked with a therapist on improving your self-confidence and assertiveness, or spent your money on yoga to help you focus and calm down--both could give you the confidence to ask for a raise at work, or to tackle your job in a way that will make you stand out. No matter how big or small your problems may be, getting care is important if it allows you to function at your fullest.
Take Mental Health Expenses From Your Health Care Budget
LearnVest recommends that you plan to spend about 5% of your post-tax salary on health care. Mental health expenses should come out of this 5%, but the proportion of traditional health care costs to mental care costs will vary for everyone. According to Amanda Clayman, our psychology of money expert, "If you are on any medications or ongoing treatment programs (such as physical therapy), you would not want to divert funds away from those expenses without discussing it with your doctor first." She recommends that you tally up how much you've actually spent on health-related costs in the past in order to estimate for the future. If you regularly pay for professional mental health care, add that to your tally. Then, use the extra wiggle room for de-stressing activities like massages, meditation, and yoga. "If you're in relatively good health," she says, "then a nice chunk of that 5% can go toward keeping you in a zen place and hopefully preventing illness down the road!"
Look For Inexpensive Ways To De-Stress
Some of our favorite ways to find mental quiet are yoga, tai-chi, and meditation. To keep these classes from biting too deeply into that 5%, try finding yoga classes cheaply (we know how to find yoga for under $10). When we really need to chill out, we love massages, too. To reduce costs, we sometimes opt for shorter massages, which are 30 minutes instead of a full hour; chair massages, which don't require you to undress; hand and foot or neck-only massages, which are our saviors since we spend long hours at our computers; and massages by massage students, which we find through local massage schools. After all, they've got to practice on someone!
For more ways to lead a peaceful, stress-free life, check out the government’s list of alternative ways to improve mental health.
Know When Yoga Isn't Enough
The techniques above are great for dealing with daily stress and anxiety, but it might be time to consider therapy if you're noticing changes in your sleep patterns, sex drive, ability to concentrate, or weight (gain or loss). Almost everyone can benefit from the added support of psychotherapy or counseling at some point. Mental health is real and important. Consider the cost of therapy to be an investment in you.
Explore Your Options: Insurance, Health Savings, Flexible Spending Accounts
A session with a licensed therapist generally costs about $100, and much more than that in some areas. Unfortunately, your health insurance probably won’t help: Most policies require a serious diagnosis of mental illness before they cover visits. Even then, many policies only cover a limited number of sessions per year, sometimes as few as 12. However, if you have a health savings account or flexible spending account, you can likely use those funds to pay for therapy.
Understand How Much This May Cost Annually
A weekly session can cost over $5,200 per year or more. If that’s too much for your budget, speak to your therapist to see if you can come up with a game plan to tackle some key issues in fewer sessions. Additionally, some therapists will negotiate a lower fee, based on your income.
Find Other Options To Make Mental Health Fit In Your Budget
Think about group therapy, which typically costs about half as much as individual sessions. The American Group Psychotherapy Association can help you find a group near you. For an even more affordable alternative, check out local support groups. You might also look into Mental Health America, a national non-profit devoted to improving mental health for all Americans. It has affiliates all over the country that offer support groups, counseling, and other low-cost or no-cost services. If you're grappling with serious issues, don't let financial concerns stand in the way of your mental health.
Just because we live in a high-speed, stressed out society doesn't mean we have to live our lives that way. Taking care of yourself now will make you happier, healthier, and prevent problems down the road—whether what's best for you is a support group or a day trip to the spa.