Health insurance: only when you don’t need it.
Confused? Let me explain.
In our illogical model, our society provides health insurance to the gainfully employed. But, ironically, it is the gainfully unemployed who most need mental health coverage.
In the United States, our employer-based health care model is predicated on — surprise surprise — employment. For the standard nine to five set, employer-based health insurance is a satisfactory option. Generally, employers subsidize out-of-pocket health care costs — including mental health coverage–for their employees.
Yes, the health care system works — if you gainfully work. But in our unstable job market (hello, Great Recession!), millennials to Boomers face dwindling employment opportunities. During the Great Recession alone, the U.S. economy lost over 10 million jobs.
As the Great Recession plunged millions of Americans into unemployment, mental health issues among displaced workers soared. According to The Atlantic, “unemployed Americans are more than twice as likely as those with full-time jobs to say they currently have or are being treated for depression — 12.4 percent vs. 5.6 percent, respectively.”
Unemployment exacts an emotional toll — and our health care paradigm exacerbates that sense of estrangement and alienation.
When I was unemployed, my mental health issues spiked. Depressive and anxious thoughts vied for supremacy, torpedoing my emotional well-being. And like millions of unemployed Americans, I struggled to find suitable mental health care. Out-of-pocket costs were prohibitive, straining my already limited budget. I isolated myself from family and friends, embarrassed at my sagging fortunes.
Insert Dr. McCann.
Out of the goodness of her heart, Dr. McCann counseled me during this tumultuous time. She mentored and advised, becoming a trusted confidante. As we visited over a year-long stretch, the anxious and depressive thoughts slowly receded. Financially strapped, Dr. McCann — bless her heart — did not charge me for these counseling sessions.
How many of us–as unemployment upends our emotional stability — has a Dr. McCann to confide in? The answer: very few. And even more germane, how many accomplished counselors would counsel an indigent client? You and I (along with the millions of unemployed Americans) know the answer.
To be clear, I am incredibly lucky. Without Dr. McCann’s guidance, I shudder to think where I would be. As unemployment battered my psyche, Dr. McCann was a calming, reassuring voice.
As I reflect on my good fortune, I recognize the sad irony undergirding our health care system. While employed, my mental health issues stabilized — in part because I could regularly access cost-effective treatment. But I could only access cost-effective treatment because I was employed. Our flawed health care system, in essence, protected me. Circular logic and all.
When my job ended, my unemployability exposed the systemic flaws in our health care model. Now as the job market recovers from Great Recession depths, millions of un- and underemployed Americans yearn for reliable insurance. Insurance — that is — from the job market’s capricious whims. And the devastating impact on our fragile mental health.