Accessing quality mental health treatment is hard. In general, mental health is something we don’t talk about enough. It’s unpleasant and uncomfortable. But, most of us know someone who suffers from mental health issues. Many of us go through it ourselves in silence; this is the experience I had.
Growing up, I witnessed the toll poor mental health could have on families. I didn’t know my mother was depressed. At the time, I just knew she was sad; sometimes she couldn’t get out of bed. I remember my father was dependable, outgoing, and humorous. I didn’t know he suffered from depression. He died of suicide at 41 years old.
It’s difficult to describe what this trauma does to a person. It messes with your head. I had already experienced feelings of sadness or “feeling off” periodically since I was a child. This experience made those feelings more frequent and intense. I didn’t talk about it; I thought it was a normal part of life.
Even if I thought I could get better, mental health services weren’t covered by insurance. What could I do? We didn’t have the money to pay out of pocket for counseling services. I was not aware of low- or no-cost options. I would just have to deal with it.
I envied my father; he didn’t have to live with depression anymore. Eventually, I reached a point where I couldn’t deal with it anymore; I felt hopeless and empty. I attempted suicide twice by the time I was 20 years old.
I’m not sure what changed my perspective, but I finally sought help. When seeking out services, I didn’t know where to start. I had a student health insurance plan, but my mental health coverage was limited. I discovered I could only seek counseling at my university’s student health center; only six sessions were covered. After those sessions, I would have to pay out of pocket.
Finding a therapist I felt comfortable with was difficult. I switched counselors several times until I found one that fit my needs. My road to recovery has been long and strenuous, but I’m thriving. I recently celebrated my 30th birthday; 10 years ago, I didn’t think I’d be alive at 30. I’m lucky, many people in my situation wouldn’t be alive to tell about it. My mental health journey advanced my commitment to mental health advocacy.
Through my advocacy, I learned that difficulty accessing mental health services is still a major obstacle to receiving treatment. A 2018 study by the Cohen Veterans Network found 42% of Americans saw cost and poor insurance coverage as the top barriers to accessing mental health services. Additionally, 25% of Americans have had to choose between getting mental health treatment and paying for daily necessities.
Fixing our current healthcare system is a complex issue. However, there are small steps that can be taken to improve access to mental health care. In Colorado, legislation is being proposed that would mandate private health insurance plans cover annual mental health wellness checkups. Passing HB 21-1068 will ensure that people will not have to pay deductibles, co-payments or co-insurance for their annual mental health checkup; individuals can receive an annual mental health checkup without worrying about the cost. If mental health issues are identified early during these checkups, there will be a better chance to treat them before they get worse.
If annual mental health checkups were available to me, I could have gotten the help I desperately needed earlier in life. Please contact your representative and ask them to support HB 21-1068. This legislation will improve mental health care access; it will help save lives.
Christopher Nelson is a Denver-based youth advocate at Young Invincibles, an advocacy organization dedicated to elevating the voice of young people in our political process. He holds a master’s degree in social work from the University of Denver.