More people are investing in their mental health. Can they afford it?

By Claire Wolters | Fact-checked by Davi Sherman
Published August 30, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Studies show that utilization of and spending on mental healthcare increased between 2019 and 2022.

  • Experts hope that higher demand can lead to better quality of service but worry that out-of-pocket costs could increase if insurance companies don’t step up.

More insured people are investing in mental healthcare and paying for it, too. A new study revealed that between 2019 and 2022, spending on mental healthcare increased disproportionately compared to increased utilization of healthcare services during the same period.[]

The study suggests that this divide may grow now that the public health emergency—which was declared in 2020 due to rising cases of COVID-19 and allowed for an increase in telehealth services and healthcare funding—has ended. Whether or not—or to what extent—insurance companies will back future mental healthcare costs has yet to be seen.[]

Ian Jackson, LPC-MHSP, LMHC, NCC, a licensed mental health counselor with Recovery Unplugged, says that these trends suggest “that out-of-pocket costs for mental healthcare could potentially rise.”

“As demand for services grows, so too might costs,” Jackson says. He adds that the issue is complex. In addition to insurance coverage, individual provider policies and any changes in government policy could impact future turnout. 

When it comes to individual provider policies, not all mental health professionals accept insurance.  Studies have found that psychiatrists are less likely to accept insurance compared to physicians in other specialties. For any type of psychiatry or psychotherapy, people in a pinch may not have time to find someone who both accepts insurance and accepts insurance within their network.[]

People can pay an average of $241 for an initial intake visit with an out-of-network psychologist—and about $160 for each subsequent 45-minute psychotherapy session, according to the Center for American Progress (CAP). Someone who sees their therapist 12 times after an intake session can pay more than $2,100 out of pocket.[]

Depending on how the future plays out, this increased spending may inspire positive changes, too.

“The increased demand for mental health services has accelerated the development and adoption of innovative solutions, like teletherapy and internet-supported mental health interventions,” Jackosn says. “These technologies make mental healthcare more accessible, especially for those who may have previously faced barriers to access.”

If this demand continues, Jackson says, it will hopefully  “lead to more comprehensive coverage of mental healthcare and increased investment in mental health resources,” in addition to destigmatizing the act of seeking help.

What this means for you

Studies show that utilization and spending on mental healthcare increased between 2019 and 2022, with spending rates rising disproportionately. Experts worry that out-of-pocket costs will continue to increase if insurance companies don’t step up.

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