Experiences with Free Mental Health Care

JamesI live in the USA, where health care is not free or taken care of by the state. But I’ve been lucky to experience free mental health care through my university.

In the UW system that I’m a part of, our tuition goes to pay for University Heath Services. A place where basic health problems can be dealt with and referrals can be obtained. When I had a back injury, I went there to receive free x-rays and a lot of vicodin for the pain. It’s free and open to the population of students and graduate students. Some 30,000+ people have access and it’s only 2 floors of medical services with labs on one floor. Yet, no lines, hardly any wait. Any cough, sniffle, etc… can be seen and if serious, can be treated. They also have their own pharmacy with reduced rates for common drugs so it’s like having insurance on top of it all.

In addition to this, there’s another floor for mental health. They provide short term care and emergency care. I’ll tell a little bit about how I got involved in it. Last december, things were going poorly, I had so much anxiety that I couldn’t even enter certain buildings on campus. The failure to make it to classes made my depression at the time even worse, which made my anxiety worse, and so forth. At the end of the semester, I finally worked up the courage to try and drop the classes, I couldn’t. I was depressed and I figured that I had something wrong with me. But that story wasn’t bought by the Dean. Locked in a situation where I was failing, unable to make it to classes, barely able to make it out of the house, and then finally turned away by the Dean, I planned to kill myself. The only hope that I had was that there was UHS there.

So I called, and they got me in immediately. And by immediately, I mean I went there, told them that I was feeling suicidal, and in 15 minutes they had me in a room with a consultant seeing if I was eligible for services. I qualified.

Being free, they do not accept everyone, they have to make sure that it’s serious, like my case. I’ve known other people who have been turned away, one who was depressed from a vitamin D deficiency. She got help from UHS though. But also, by being free, they saved my life. If anyone’s read my blog, I’ve been through insurance hell of trying to find a psychiatrist. I couldn’t have gone through that when I was that depressed. Plus, I don’t like hospitals, so that option would have been a far cry from what I really wanted. Instead, they gave me a free way out.

Included in the free ride, I received 10 free therapist visits and access to a psychiatrist. The staff was highly qualified and ready to help. In fact, I think they were more than happy to help since I was bipolar and most hadn’t really gotten to work with someone who had such a serious disorder. I’m sure most of them get anxiety disorders. And being free and accessible, they really turned my life around.

From my psychiatrist I received needed medical treatment and an experienced ear to tell my symptoms to. But what really shined was my therapist. He provided me with really high quality care and plenty of resources on what to do. His emphasis was on cognitive behavioral therapy. The strategies were incredibly helpful in managing my anxiety, now to the point that I barely panic when going into a test situation. Both Mr. A and Mr. F are responsible for helping me on the path to getting better.

They’re also responsible for saving my life. Free health care gave me access to the tools that I needed at the time to get better without the added stress of cost or number crunching. The focus was solely on me and getting better. If I had to crunch the numbers, I would have become more depressed over the costs and might not have sought the necessary treatment. Rather, I’d have tried to go it alone and never received medical treatment. In short, I’d probably be dead.

And this is of particular importance because of the number of individuals not receiving treatment. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that of individuals with any mood disorder, half receive treatment, but only one fifth receive minimally adequate care over 12 months. With anxiety disorders, only four in ten receive treatment, and 12% receive minimally adequate care. Schizophrenia does far better, nearly two thirds receive care for their disorder. And in general, with a 12 month prevalence of some mental illness at 36%, only 12% receive care.

This demonstrates a horrible discrepancy between the reality of mental illness and the treatment that is received. I was lucky, I had free access. I was in the one fifth. But without free access, I’d likely no longer be here. So I owe my life to UHS and Dr. A and Dr. F for providing their services.

© James Claims and A Canvas Of The Minds 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to James Claims and A Canvas Of The Minds with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

6 thoughts on “Experiences with Free Mental Health Care

  1. When I was at CU Boulder there was a similar program for their students, and though the size of the facility was similar to what you described they quickly found me a local hospital (and even paid the cab fare to get me there) when I was in crisis. At the time this service was free to me, but had I had access to a therapist or psychiatrist in their program the hospitalization likely could have been prevented.

    Also, it seems easy for me to say that what they provided to me was free, but I WAS paying $30,000 a year to the university, some of which I am positive went toward the university health services.

    The 1/5 ratio is apparent here in Seattle, I would be so bold as to claim the ratio here might be worse. Anyone can see the lack of available mental health care just walking down the streets throughout the city. There is an enormous problem here with homelessness, and between our state disability program cuts and the lack of adequate prescribers the vast majority of homeless people (and low-income people alike) requiring mental health treatment aren’t receiving it. I know I am in the boat with them, and it is hard to watch it sinking.

  2. I’m so glad that you had a great experience with free psychiatric care. I’ve been through “low cost” options and “sliding scale” clinics. Both were a bust. The sliding scale clinic required me to attend group therapy sessions until I could see the therapist. Minimum wait was 4 weeks. Then, I’d see the therapist every week until I could see the doctor. Another 4 weeks. After that, it was required that I go in weekly. I’m sorry. I’m a working mother. I do not have time for all of those visits, nor do I wish to see a therapist. I know that many of you out there have amazing therapists that have saved your life. But, I have really been burned by the experience every time I’ve gone through it. I’d have one therapist, only for that therapist to drop and run on me. Then, I’d have to start all over telling my life story to yet another stranger, who was less understanding than the one before.

    It was similar at the low cost community clinic. Except, I had an inadequate social worker as a pitiful excuse for a therapist. And again, I was required to sit in a room with her saying pretty much nothing for an hour each week. Then, there was the doctor. We’ve all heard the story about her…

    But I’m glad that there good clinics out there that take good care of their patients.

  3. I have to say that my experience with a community health clinic that had free behavioral health was awesome. For one year I saw my therapist on an average of 2x a month. I had previously been seeing a therapist at the clinic where my primary doctor practices. Those appointments were over $240 each. My husband and I are middle class but still my appointments were eating up all of our HSA. I got the name of the therapist at the Open Door clinic from someone who attends the bipolar support group I go to. I will be eternally grateful that the local community health clinic didn’t charge. I had the most wonderful social worker therapist. She was so encouraging to me…helping me to see the ‘real’ me once again. It prompted me to go back to grad school to get my Master of Social Work so that I can give back. I want to be a therapist to those with mental health issues. I know that I wouldn’t be at the place I am now and as healthy as I am without my experience with her. I am so very thankful and blessed.

  4. I’m about to dive into free mental health care of a different sort – Medicaid. I have heard good and I have heard bad, but I’m hoping I end up with the former. I am also fortunate as it will not be my only care – even at my age, because the state has declared me disabled, I am on my father’s medical plan. It’s good, but there is a lot left over that Medicaid could help with – we’re talking bills still from my ECT in the tens of thousands. And it isn’t free. But I am grateful for every bill they pay, I know how fortunate I am to have these options, because if there is one thing you never want to have to deal with if you have mental health concerns, it is a lapse in coverage.

    • Oh no, I won’t rag on Medicaid at all. Medicaid is what helped me get the treatment I needed in the first place. And it picked up again when I had private insurance run out. Now, it’s a wonderful supplemental insurance. I was overburdened with copays, but now I can get the care I need without having to take away a significant chunck from my family.

  5. I’m glad things worked out well for you, James. I wish more people had happy stories to tell about times they lacked insurance.

    I don’t know if anyone reads this far down in the comments, but it seems to me I should mention the following: If you are feeling suicidal and do not have health insurance, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room regardless. By law they must treat you the same way they would any patient, ability to pay notwithstanding. And your treating doctor is not going to be in a huddle with intake, asking what kind of insurance you have.

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