This advice and information is based on personal, individual experience. Everyone has a different relationship and journey with their mental health. While my experience is most likely very different from the experiences of others, I am sharing this in the hopes that this information will help someone in need.
At 23, I moved clear across the country, started grad school, and was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety and Moderate-Severe OCD. Needless to say, a lot happened in a short amount of time. Over the two years I spent in grad school, I learned more about my mental health, went on medication, and found a great therapist. All in all, I managed myself well.
And then I graduated.
Not only did I lose my student teaching job, but access to my psychiatrist, who was employed through the university. Worse still, the three months of medication I was promised got reduced to a 30-day prescription at the last moment. I had one month of meds, a $45 copay per visit, and a paid internship that was only guaranteed for three months. My best friend was in an even worse situation: her health insurance was through the school and she lost that when she graduated, too.
Here are a few things I’ve learned (and am still learning) about managing your mental health on a budget.
1. Do NOT Stop Taking Your Medication
Skipping doses or reducing your dose seems like a great way to extend your medication, especially when you don’t know when you can refill. You are on that dose of medication for a reason, and while withdrawal might really suck if you do run out, you need to be at your best to find new resources. I tried stretching my medication, and in doing so, my productivity went down the drain. I could go to work and come home, but that was about it. Not only did I lack the motivation to find a new psychiatrist, but a lot of other important tasks fell by the wayside as well. If you only have a month left of medication, use that time to find new doctors or resources. Even if you can’t get in to see them for a while, at least you have an appointment before your medication is gone.
2. Be Honest With Your Support
I had a large gap in paychecks between the end of school and the beginning of my paid internship. I was also moving, again, and essentially had a lot of stress, good and bad, appear all at once. Needless to say, therapy was a must. However, because of the time between paychecks, my $45 copay seemed like too much to spend on an hour of talking. Instead of skipping therapy, I told my therapist and she was happy to let me pay twice next time. Be honest with the people who are there to help you: offer to pay in installments, or see if they can bill half-hour sessions. If you normally pay on time, a lot of people are willing to be flexible, especially if it’s in the short term.
3. Practice Actual Self-Care
One of my biggest issues concerning mental health and internet advice is the concept of self-care. Contrary to popular belief, self-care is not all “treat yo self” shopping trips and Lush-fueled bubble baths. Most of the time, self-care is not spending that $20 on a shirt that’s on sale or taking a nap in lieu of your responsibilities. Nine times out of 10, self-care is hard and ugly and absolutely necessary. It’s forcing yourself to shower, or actually call that referral, or eat something that at least resembles a vegetable. Instead of spending that $20, actively don’t spend it and set it aside for your next copay. Practice self-care that actually pushes you forward instead of giving you an excuse to hold back.
4. Look for Alternative Resources
As I mentioned earlier, my best friend went through a similar situation around the same time. While running out of my meds was not fun, for her it would have been much worse. In these types of situations, it is important to look for alternative resources. For medication, there are crisis centers in most cities that will often “bridge” medication (i.e. give a 10 or 12-day prescription to hold you over until you can get in with a new doctor). While these services often require a lot of paperwork and possibly hours of waiting, they are vital for situations like this.
Another alternative resource to professional therapy that requires a copay is peer support groups. Although many people prefer working with a licensed professional, many hospitals host support groups for people with similar diagnoses, free of charge. If you know there will be a few months where paying your copay isn’t an option, look for a peer support group to join in the interim. Not only is this a way to meet other people to connect with, they may have even more tips and tricks to help manage your mental health.
5. Plan Ahead
More often than not, losing health insurance or entering financial trouble is a surprise; one doesn’t plan on getting rid of those things. However, even a little bit of research now goes a long way in helping yourself in the event that it ever does happen. Once you finish reading this article, take 20 minutes and do a bit of research. Are there peer support groups for your diagnosis in the area? What is the government health insurance offered in your state, and what is the basic application process? Is there a local clinic that bridges medication? By looking at this information now, when everything is going well, you will be more prepared if something unexpected happens. 20 minutes today could save you hours or even days of distress in the future.
Amelia is a New York girl living it up in the Southwest. She’s an art historian, actor, and three-legged cat owner.
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