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Without my job and the health benefits it comes with, I could be paying $300 a month to treat my anxiety. I can barely imagine paying that much now, let alone if I was unemployed. More than 6.7 million Canadians are currently living with a mental illness, and young people aged 15 to 24 are more vulnerable than any other age group. For many others like myself, this age is a time for finding an entry-level job and paying off student debt. It’s not the most financially stable period in life. But young or not, paying for mental health services is sadly just not a luxury that everyone can afford.

The economic cost of mental illness in Canada is estimated at $51 billion a year, which includes health care costs as well as lost productivity. In a given week, about 500,000 Canadians are unable to work due to mental health problems. It’s not hard to find information on the cost of mental illness on Canadian economy, but I feel like a more personal narrative is often missing – what about the cost to the individual? I was inspired to write this post after reading about a life-saving drug that went up in price overnight from $13.50 a tablet to $750. I’m astonished that this could happen. I am able to afford my anxiety medication thanks to insurance through my employer, but this recent news story reminded me how fragile my ability to access treatment really is.

First of all, I am lucky enough to be employed. People with a mental illness are less likely to be employed, which means they have to pay full price for treatment without the income to support them. Sliding scale services do exist, but they are harder to access since they are so in demand. And some areas of treatment are more complicated than others, requiring more than basic help. I can currently see a counselor through my Employee Assistance Program for free, but recently I self-referred myself to a cognitive therapy clinic to see a psychologist about something my counselor is just not trained to deal with. Each 1-hour appointment at this clinic costs $200. My insurance covers the equivalent of two and a half sessions per year, and I already burned through the first session and a half just explaining my background and establishing a relationship. I keep putting off my second session because I’m afraid it will be my last. I cannot afford to continue the recommended treatment course (8-10 sessions) and it’s so frustrating to wonder how much I might improve if I could.

My insurance also covers a huge portion of my prescription medications. Without my insurance, I would be paying $100 a month for just one of my anxiety medications. Every time I refill the prescription I’m afraid the price will go up or my insurance will somehow be declined. If I stopped working, I would have to pay full price and I wouldn’t have access to see my counselor anymore so I’d be forced to see a private practice. The thought of being unemployed is scary for most people, but it’s especially alarming when the stability of one’s mental health depends on their job.

I am privileged enough to come from a middle class background and to have a stable job right now. I have not had to pay full price for most of my mental health treatment, but I know this is not the case for many Canadians. I don’t think access to basic mental health care should be a luxury. I don’t think it should depend on employment either. I wish psychologist visits were covered under OHIP and I wish more mental health services were available to those who need them the most – not just those who can afford to pay for them.

Sources: Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) and Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).

About Jasmin Yee

Jasmin Yee is an Ottawa-based young professional who has dealt with mental illness since the end of high school. Now 24, she has a passion for mental health advocacy and breaking down the barriers that make it so hard to talk publicly about mental illness. She writes about her experiences with depression and anxiety on her blog, as well as her thoughts on how to reduce stigma. Jasmin aims to develop a career in health promotion so that she can connect with at-risk communities and enable them to take care of their mental health.

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