The news headlines generated after actress Catherine Zeta-Jones
checked into a mental health facility recently are a reminder that
celebrities aren't immune from the challenges of day-to-day living.
But the rich and famous seldom have to worry about whether they can
pay for treatment.
Zeta-Jones' problems surfaced after she spent many months
supporting husband Michael Douglas' difficult struggle against
cancer. After dealing with the stress, she decided to check into a
mental health facility to treat a Bipolar II disorder, a
spokesperson for the actress said.
Not all policies offer the type of inpatient treatment Zeta-Jones
received, which typically is more intensive and costly than
outpatient therapy. In fact, according to mental health
professionals, getting proper treatment often depends on the
quality of your
"Even when outpatient therapy is covered, the co-pay can be too
expensive for some clients," says Sheela Raja, a licensed clinical
psychologist and an assistant professor at the University of
Illinois at Chicago. "We have a long way to go to making mental
health treatment accessible to the average person."
The first hurdle: the stigma
Mental health care professionals are encouraged when
high-profile celebrities like Zeta-Jones discuss their need for
mental health care. That's because it helps overcome the negative
stereotypes that sometimes are associated with therapy.
"I think it definitely helps remove stigma when anyone publicly
says they are seeking treatment," says Michigan psychologist and
therapist Sally Palaian. "We're in a new era as a society where
we're starting to normalize mental health issues."
Although attitudes are changing, there still are some patients
who refuse to seek help for psychological problems, even when their
health insurance coverage would pay their expenses, explains Raja.
"There is still, unfortunately, a lot of stigma associated with
seeking mental health care."
Uncertainty about how to pay for it, though, is more easily
"People do not plan on having mental health problems," says
Tamara Walker, director of operations at Lasting Recovery, a
treatment center for drug and alcohol addiction in San Diego. "When
these things arise, all of a sudden they realize their policy does
not cover it and they have nothing to lean on. They have to
self-pay. An hour therapy session can cost between $90 and $250. If
you are looking at psychiatry, an assessment can be $400 just for
an hour to two hours."
The second hurdle: the cost
Walker recommends thoroughly reading your insurance policy and
asking for help if there is anything you don't understand. It is
best to do this when you first select health insurance coverage,
before you need to seek help for a mental health issue.
policy language will be confusing to consumers, Walker warns.
"There is language and terminology the person who owns the policy
will not be familiar with."
Ask if your policy would cover a counselor, a therapist, or even
a stay at a mental health center.
It is common for therapists to urge inpatient treatment for
people, even if their insurance coverage falls short, says Palaian.
That's because it enables psychologists to offer intense treatment
in a relatively short amount of time, "without the outside-world
You may have a policy, but are you covered?
Mental health problems are frequently related to drug and
alcohol use. If you have
health insurance coverage
through your employer, it is likely that you have insurance for
mental health and addiction issues. The problem is that the level
of coverage can vary widely.
In addition, state laws governing mental health insurance
coverage are inconsistent, says Walker.
The Council for Affordable Health Insurance says
42 states require coverage
for mental health treatment.
According to the National Council of Legislatures, state laws
may require that insurance customers be offered coverage for mental
illness, substance abuse or a combination. However,choosing that
option will likely result in higher premiums. State laws may also
require that mental health benefits be equal to other medical
benefits offered by the insurer.
Things beyond your control, such as a divorce or the loss of a
loved one, can trigger severe mental health issues in persons who
never experienced them before, Walker explains. "We don't count on
those things, but they do happen."