Mental health continues to be a highly discussed issue coming out of the pandemic. As the coronavirus helped to uncover many disparities in the healthcare system, it has also revealed mental health issues that, for some, were left unchecked. Access to mental health professionals is becoming increasingly difficult with the influx of patients seeking help. However, financial access creates another barrier in the search for mental stability. With rising insurance premiums and the high demand for therapists, counselors and life coaches, the journey to sound mental health is presenting a challenge for some in the Black community.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimated Americans spent $225 billion in 2019 alone according to reports from Open Minds Market Intelligence. As the costs continue to rise, so too do the diagnosed cases of mental health illnesses. Triggered by pre-existing issues and an insurmountable amount of death, the impacts on mental health can be felt by all, but particularly those in the African American community. With so many stigmas already tied to mental health for African Americans, finding affordable care can seem daunting. With close to 12 percent of Black people in America living with no health insurance, the costs of mental health equate to more than just dollars and cents.
“Well, I always say that grief is an essential part of our mental health because it is an emotional response to a loss, change or death. In this pandemic, we are not only grieving loved ones who have passed on due to COVID, but the plethora of changes and transitions that have come along with it; social distancing, job loss, virtual learning, fear, anger, etc. We’ve all had to readjust our lives and lifestyles since 2020,” said LaToya Latham, a grief coach.
In Michigan, the average cost of a therapy session for those uninsured is approximately $90. Those with insurance may have to meet a certain portion through co-pays, deductibles and other out-of-pocket expenses before their insurance policies begin to pay for the services. The mounting cost of mental health can be a deterrent as many are faced with the financial challenges of everyday life. For African Americans, disparities in healthcare already present challenges on the journey to wellness. However, financial hindrances make the road even more rocky.
“I would say that Medicaid has increased their mental health [coverage] to unlimited visits in a year, which is great for the minority population seeking mental health assistance. I have however done my research and learned that a lot of great therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists do not accept state insurance because a small percentage of the middle class and all of the upper class can sustain the cost of private insurance. Also, state insurances pay a lesser amount of what private insurance companies for their reimbursements,” said Latham.
While the African American community remains hard-hit in mental health care, Black men tend to suffer at even greater rates. Groomed to be providers void of emotional expression, Black men are at an even greater disadvantage in mental health disparities. Access to therapy options is limited in the female-dominated field leaving many Black men in search of a therapist or counselor who can identify with the unique challenges of being Black and male.
“I have a unique situation of my own because I’m an African American male and there’s not a lot of me doing therapy. I stay busy because there’s a lot of people looking for an African American male when this field is heavily dominated by females,” said Jamell Jefferson, licensed professional counselor. “You may have Black females doing this and then you have Caucasian males or Caucasian females, but there’s such a disparity between having that African American male that somebody can talk to and relate with.”
The boom in telehealth has afforded many the opportunity to gain the help they need. Formally, many insurance companies did not cover telehealth services, adding another layer to disparities. However, since the pandemic, insurers are covering telehealth, giving many the chance to seek therapy from the comforts of home.
“With the shift in COVID, a lot of the insurance companies are paying now for that service where it used to be an option,” said Jefferson.
The American Psychiatric Association estimates about 27 percent of African Americans live below the poverty line. As economics continue to be a main factor in keeping African Americans from receiving mental health care, many therapists and coaches are offering affordable alternatives.
“As a counselor, you still have to make a living. With insurance, having access to insurance is one way, but then it’s what are out-of-pocket costs because a lot of times, with insurance you have to meet deductibles before they kick in or you have to meet copays and then each agency or counselor will have a set fee for their hourly service rates,” said Jefferson. “Some companies offer a sliding scale to help people meet income issues.”
Though some advances have been made in addressing racial and economic barriers, the healthcare industry still has a long way to go in leveling the playing field.
“I am a firm believer that there is light at the end of the tunnel, but we must be willing and ready to do the light work. Healing is never the easy part and in order to start that journey, we must be ready to sacrifice comfort. Because COVID is possibly here to stay, that word alone could be a trigger for many,” said Latham. “To heal, we must find a way to cope with each trigger we identify. Go to therapy, hire a Grief/Life Coach, allow outsiders who are professionally trained to guide and support you.”
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