With an illness like depression, the cost of treatment often adds up to more than the price of medication alone. Untreated or undertreated depression can break the bank in the form of lost work, lost productivity, and hospital stays.
In fact, depression is estimated to have cost the U.S. economy more than $210 billion in 2010 (including the cost of comorbid, or simultaneously existing, conditions), according to a study published in 2015 in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. “The key to managing the cost of depression is managing depression itself,” says health economist Adam Powell, PhD, president of Payer+Provider, a Boston-based consulting firm that works with insurance companies and healthcare providers. “The direct cost American society spends on treating depression is far smaller than the indirect costs spent on its consequences.”
And the personal costs of effectively managing depression can add up, too. In addition to medication, many people with depression pay for therapy, top quality foods, gym memberships, yoga or mindfulness meditation classes, supplements, educational materials, or other goods and services that they feel help them manage the condition.
Here we share what six people with depression spend on the condition — including which costs they must absorb on their own — and how they cut corners to make ends meet.
Susan Hyatt, 56, Corporate Social Responsibility Advisor
Monthly Medication: $70
Additional Monthly Treatments: $420-$470
Net Monthly Out-of-Pocket Costs: $490-$540
Much of what business consultant Susan Hyatt of Denver pays to manage her depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD) relates to keeping herself productive. And if her strategies to stay productive aren’t effective, she loses income and can’t pay for the things that help her feel and stay better. In addition to her medication — about $70 a month out-of-pocket for Wellbutrin (bupropion) and Oleptro (trazodone) — Hyatt spends about $100 to $150 on supplements and herbs each month, and a little more than $300 for exercise and other lifestyle activities that help keep her motivated to work.
For example, Hyatt, who founded the consulting company Big Purpose Big Impact, walks to Starbucks or another nearby coffee shop every day to work; her tab adds up to $4 to $8 a day. “The noise forces me to have to really concentrate to get anything done, and it works,” Hyatt says. “Once I go home, I can easily slide back into not being very motivated.”
Too little motivation becomes costly for an entrepreneur. Hyatt’s depression has caused her to miss phone calls about potential work or speaking opportunities on days when she avoids answering her phone. And as she finishes up her long-term contracts, she often finds it exhausting to apply for new ones, costing her potential income. That means she also can’t currently afford massage, acupuncture, and therapy — all of which have helped her manage her illness in the past. “Friends or family who haven’t had issues with depression or SAD may be sympathetic,” she says, “but they often can’t really get their minds around the fact that depression can be debilitating.”
Her best tip: When her Wellbutrin dosage was increased from 300 milligrams (mg) to 450 mg a day, her doctor originally prescribed three 150 mg tablets. But getting one 300 mg bottle and one 150 mg bottle saved her about $35 a month. If your doctor can similarly prescribe a specific dosage that is cheaper, the savings can add up.
Kathryn Goetzke, 44, Nonprofit Founder
Monthly Medication: $0 currently (previously up to $100)
Additional Monthly Treatments: $300-$700
Net Monthly Out-of-Pocket Costs: $300-$700
Kathryn Goetzke, who lives in San Francisco, can easily tick off the ways her depression has cost her: lost productivity, strained relationships, bad decisions, a poorly functioning immune system, and an inability to maintain boundaries. It’s also led to unhealthy habits, such as smoking, alcohol use, and overeating. But after dealing with all these ramifications of the illness, she’s now found that exercise and a healthy diet help her the most in dealing with the condition.
She avoids sugar, eats organic food, makes smoothies, and spends $75 a month on a gym membership, plus another $75 on exercise classes such as Spinning. Not included in her monthly costs is the $600 she paid for a Fisher Wallace Stimulator, an FDA-cleared wearable device that treats anxiety and depression by sending slight electrical pulses to the brain through two nodes that are attached to the temples; Goetzke uses the Stimulator twice a day.
The $150 a month she spends on supplements goes toward 5-HTP, omega-3s, vitamin D, GABA, Dr. Amen’s Serotonin Mood Support, and green powder — a supplement mixture of vitamins, minerals, probiotics, prebiotics, and other ingredients, depending on the manufacturer.
When Goetzke, who is also founder of the International Foundation for Research and Education on Depression (iFred), goes to therapy, it costs about $400 a month.
She emphasizes that depression is treatable, but many people require treatment beyond medication: Therapy is essential, she believes. And while Goetzke no longer needs medication, she would sacrifice anything for it when she did. “There is nothing more important than mental health,” Goetzke says. “I lost my dad to suicide and never want to follow in his footsteps.”
Her best tip: Goetzke has made a lot of changes to cut corners: she finds therapists covered by insurance, does workouts outside instead of taking extra gym classes, borrows books from the library, and quit drinking and smoking. But her biggest tip is to avoid making big decisions while you’re depressed.
“Give it a month to be sure it’s the right decision,” she says. “That’s really helped me avoid making expensive decisions that were more the depression talking than me.”
Maggie White, 34, Stay-At-Home Mom
Monthly Medication: $170
Additional Monthly Treatments: $500-$1,000
Net Monthly Out-of-Pocket Costs: $670-1,700
Although Maggie White, of Downers Grove, Illinois, spends $80 forPristiq (desvenlafaxine) and $90 for Klonopin (clonazepam) each month, her other costs vary greatly depending on the month. She cares for five young children at home and needs to “keep [herself] as mentally healthy as possible” since her husband travels frequently, and her mental health affects her family, too.
Her therapy adds up to about $50 a month, and the $40 she spends on essential oils is worthwhile because the aromatherapy helps her feel better. When she can afford gym or yoga classes, they’re about $15 each, but most of her additional costs include organic foods and the $175 per month she spends on a range of supplements: vitamin D3, B-complex, B-12, magnesium/calcium, chromium, 80-billion live probiotics, flaxseed oil, potassium, zinc, and vitamin C.
“You cannot put a price on sound mental health,” White says. “If you’re walking around in that black, haunting fog so many of us know, there is no quality of life, no hope, no way to make healthy decisions, or even to know how to surround yourself with healthy people.”
Her best tip: With five kids, planning ahead and trimming the fat are the secrets to White’s household money management. Clothes are hand-me-downs or come from The Salvation Army; for food, she plans meals two weeks out and purchases only the exact groceries needed. Not only does the family skip restaurants, movies, and vacations, but they also don’t have cable TV or personal electronic devices. Instead, they watch old VHS tapes.
Lisa Keith, PsyD, Assistant Professor of Special Education
Monthly Medication: $80
Additional Monthly Treatments: $105
Net Monthly Out-of-Pocket Costs: $185
For Dr. Lisa Keith, of Fresno, California, health insurance helps tremendously with medication costs. The $80 she spends monthly on Cymbalta (duloxetine)and Abilify (aripiprazole) would cost closer to $1,000 per month if not for her insurance. In addition to the $30 she spends each month for a gym membership, $25 in co-pays for her psychiatrist, and $50 for multivitamins, iron, calcium and a few other vitamins, the Fresno Pacific University professor invested $150 in a blue light for light therapy.
“I have it good because I work full-time and have benefits,” Keith says, but those without insurance for medications are less fortunate. “I’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars over the years on medications, doctors, therapy … but the worst thing is that depression cost me a marriage. There’s no price on that.”
This article originally appeared on EverydayHealth.com: The Real Monthly Cost of Depression
By Tara Haelle, Everyday Health
Reviewed by Kathryn Keegan, MD