Don't Cut Depression Treatment from Your Budget
Times are tough, economically, for most Americans. Although my husband and I have faced challenges in the past, financially, things right now are probably the grimmest they’ve ever been for us. We actually could almost qualify for food stamps. I’ve spent the morning going over our budget, slashing our expenses to the bone to see if we’ll be able to pay our bills. As long as we have no emergencies and eat a lot of beans and rice, we might be able to make it.
Part of the problem is that we pay a high rent (almost 60% of my salary), which is one of the drawbacks of living in a desirable area. However, if we moved further out in the boonies, we’d pay a lower rent, but the savings would be eaten up in gasoline costs. Right now my commute is so short and my car is so good with mileage that I only pay about $10 per week for gas. Hopefully my 14 year old Saturn will hold up, because coming up with the money for repairs is out of the question.
But again, living in a semi-urban area would save me, because I could take the bus (with a discounted pass from my employer) for about $30 per month. Not the best solution, because the bus is frequently late, and it’s physically exhausting for me, having to use my muscles to stay on the slippery seat. I know that sounds silly, but when you have Multiple Sclerosis, a lot of things that most people take for granted are a challenge. Every time I’ve taken the bus, it has completely wiped me out.
To be honest, I’m close to hyperventilating from the stress of the situation, which is not good for either my MS or depression. I know that I’m lucky. I have no idea what we would do without the benefits I get from UC Berkeley. Both my husband and I have multiple health problems. The medicine I take for my Multiple Sclerosis would be completely unaffordable without health insurance paying for it. I think it would cost us $1000 per month. Without that medicine, new lesions would form at a rapid pace on my brain and I would be in a wheelchair in a few years. And of course I’m also so grateful that my psychiatrist, therapist and depression medication bills are covered.
I know that I’m far from alone in this situation. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that people who are not worrying about being able to pay their bills are in the minority. Even my best friend, who until recently was in an enviable position financially, is in the same boat. Her husband worked for the last twenty years for a large financial institution on Wall Street that recently laid off, or offered packages to, a large number of employees. Her husband took the offered package, but the problem is that they just built a new house. Of course they started building it long before the economy really got ugly. Knowing my friend, she’s probably hyperventilating, and spending a lot of time breathing into a paper bag.
So trust me when I say that I can completely understand why someone might decide that they can’t afford treatment for their depression. Doctor’s visits and medication can be expensive. When you’re trying to decide whether you can afford food, or transportation costs so you can keep your job, treatment may seem like an optional expense.
But here’s the problem with putting depression treatment in the “non-essential expenses” category, unless your depression is mild. Having depression can bring your life to a screeching halt. It can make everything seem like a huge effort, like when you have a bad flu, and your cognitive abilities can suffer. Naturally, depression can seriously compromise your attitude and ability to rise above challenges.
Are you having trouble making ends meet because you lost your job? Trust me, job-hunting is infinitely more difficult if you’re depressed. Job-hunting is a hell of a lot of work, and you have to have a positive attitude. Not going to happen if you’re depressed.
Managing a tight budget takes a lot of concentration, and is in itself a lot of work. Searching for bargains, coming up with ways to stretch your money - all of these require you to be at your best. If you’re depressed and can barely get through your day, you are at the opposite end of the competence spectrum from your “best.”
To be honest, I would pay for my depression treatment before I’d pay for my MS treatment. (I’d just cross my fingers and hope that our financial situation would improve before too many lesions hit my brain). I know that if I’m depressed it will affect my day to day existence, my relationship with my husband and son and very likely my job performance.
Before you decide to cut out depression treatment, talk to your doctor. Maybe he or she has some ideas, and probably has enough medication samples to tide your over for a couple of months. There might be a local mental health clinic that works on a sliding scale (you pay what you can afford based on your earnings). There might be a way to get low-cost or even free medication.
Most of us are going to face enormous challenges till the economy improves. If you suffer from depression, don’t cut out your treatment until you’ve explored all options, or you will probably find those challenges nearly insurmountable.
Deborah Gray wrote about depression as a Patient Expert for HealthCentral. She lived with undiagnosed clinical depression, both major episodes and dysthymia, from childhood through young adulthood. She was finally diagnosed at age 27, and since that time, her depression has been successfully managed with medication and psychotherapy.