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Finding mental health services for the uninsured

By Lindsay Maxfield | Posted - May 13, 2011 at 5:42 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY -- More than 50 million people in the U.S. are uninsured, and the number of Americans without mental health coverage maybe even higher. The Surgeon General's office estimates 20 percent of the U.S. population is affected by mental disorders, and 15 percent use some type of mental health service every year.

Despite the attempt to make mental and physical health care available to all, the disparity remains. But mental health experts urge people needing help to not let these hurdles keep you from getting it. There are a number of resources for free or reduced-fee treatment to ensure that no one goes without the care they deserve.

Ask a doctor

Licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Rebecca Resnik suggests starting by simply asking a doctor if they can help. "Do not be shy about asking clinicians if they can accommodate your financial situation," she writes for Med Help. "If they cannot, they should be able to refer you to someone who can provide less expensive treatment that would meet your needs."

If you can take the time and energy to search, you have a good chance of finding someone who can help.

–Dr. Rebecca Resnik

Many doctors may have a sliding fee scale, meaning they will adjust the price of services based on a patient's ability to pay. Licensed Clinical Social Worker Mary Jarman has a low private pay rate or membership option for clients of her Draper clinic, Solutions Counseling and Consulting. "When I don't have to bill insurance companies, I pass the savings on to clients," she said.

Resnik also says clinicians will occasionally provide pro bono services, or free services for those in need. "The ethical code of the American Psychological Association encourages psychologists to do pro-bono work, and most do some form of uncompensated service."

Crisis lines and hospitals

Crisis lines and suicide prevention hotlines are available 24/7 and can point you in the direction of local resources for ongoing care, but they are generally just helpful in mitigating an immediate crisis. Hospitals -- including emergency rooms -- have services available to those in crisis or seeking ongoing treatment. Call your local hospital's behavioral health or psychiatry department. Teaching hospitals like the University of Utah Neuropsychiatric Institute are good sources for less expensive care.

School counseling services

If you are needing services for a child or are in school yourself, you can start by going to the school's counselors. They can help you decide if your problem needs more specialized help and, if so, can refer you to other resources in your community. Most colleges and universities have student wellness clinics and counseling centers with many offered at no cost to students. Utah State University, Brigham Young University and the University of Utah have these services on campus. Often these are staffed by graduate students under the supervision of licensed doctors, but their methods and processes for treatment are the same.

Advocacy groups

Advocacy and outreach groups have some of the most diverse resources available and can help direct people to a variety of services. The National Alliance on Mental Illness has programs and recommendations for families and caregivers, consumers of mental health resources, mental health professionals, and criminal justice workers. Some of their many rograms include support groups and mentoring programs.

Government groups

There are many state and federal programs for the uninsured or underinsured seeking mental health treatment. The Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health contracts with community health centers to provide a variety of services throughout the states.

If you are currently or formerly in the military, the VA Health Care System has an entire host of services available to you, including a number of suicide prevention and crisis support resources.

Non-profit organization

Non-profit organizations such as Valley Mental Health provide a myriad of treatment options and resources as well. Many churches also offer or can refer someone to mental health treatment, whether or not they are a member of the congregation. Ask your local church leaders what they may have available to you.

The bottom line, Resnik says, is just to start looking. "If you can take the time and energy to search, you have a good chance of finding someone who can help."


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