Three years ago I was dealing with a very stressful work situation. I was having such a tough time at work I started having anxiety attacks every morning. I would have trouble breathing, feeling as if I were claustrophobic and somebody was closing me up in a large box. Once at work I would focus on caring for my patients, which distracted me from the stress. Once back in my car I would erupt with relief that the day was over, go home and consume two glasses of wine before bed. Wake up and do it all over again.
When the wine stopped working I started working out. I joined a gym and hired a private trainer, believing that this would help. It did a little, but not enough to prevent the anxiety attacks. That’s when a very close friend suggested that I see a therapist. Maybe a professional could help me deal with this anxiety better than I was managing on my own.
I was given a recommendation and during my first session I was given a prescription for a medicine that would help me with my anxiety and the depression the therapist had diagnosed me with. The medicine helped but came with side effects that caused us to stop this medication and try another.
During this time our talk therapy progressed and per usual all aspects of my life were evaluated. My childhood, parents, marriage and friendships were all assessed along with my regrets, unacknowledged grief, and triggers. I was feeling better thanks to the talk therapy and decided to stop taking the anti-depressants but I did choose to continue the prescription sleep aid she had prescribed. Getting a good night of sleep gave me the energy I needed to mentally and physically face another day at work.
A few more months of therapy and I was doing well enough to only see my therapist as needed and I was only taking the sleep medication 1-2 times a week. Fast forward a couple years and the weekly appointments turned into semi-monthly, then monthly and now maybe 2-3 times a year to check in. My last appointment was during the holidays and it was to share my news that I was leaving my shitty job. This was a good appointment. I had not needed sleep medication in over six months and was deemed healed from the original reason I started seeing her.
All was well until I applied for a long term disability policy with a large, national insurance agency. My previous employer had provided a policy but as I was leaving and becoming an independent contractor I felt I needed this additional security for my family. If I were to be hurt we would still be ok financially if we had this insurance. I went through the process and was told my labs looked great, I’m thin, very healthy for my age, but I would be denied because I had a history of seeing a therapist for work related stress. I asked if a mental health rider could be added. A rider is essentially an exclusion of coverage. I was told no, the company doesn’t offer these options.
I can understand an insurance company being leery of providing a disability policy for someone who has a history of suicide attempts or severe mental illness. As I have zero suicide attempts, have never lost time at work for anything mental health related, and haven’t been on any type of anti-depressant medication in almost two years I couldn’t begin to understand why they wouldn’t work with me.
Then the agent emailed me and said I had one option left, since this company had denied me I could expect everyone else to deny me as well. However, the company works with an affiliate company “on these types of cases” and they can offer me a policy…at almost double the cost of my original quote.
And there it was…this company likes to deny people, scare the hell out of them with aggressive sales tactics, and then make more money in the end by referring them to a partner at an inflated rate. It almost worked.
Thankfully I had already reached out to another company who was quickly working to get me approved. They informed me this was a sales tactic to scare me into buying a more expensive policy and to not worry, they would be able to help me find something that would meet my needs. I was approved for a policy and finalized it yesterday. I’m even saving money as my premium is cheaper than it was going to be with the first company.
Our Finances Influence our Decisions
This all worked out for us in the end because we have almost ten months of emergency funds (assuming only the loss of one income) in a high interest account so I didn’t have to rush to get a policy in place. I knew if something happened to me we wouldn’t have to make any rash decisions about our home or our lifestyle.
Right now we still require two income streams to pay our bills. If something happened to one of us, once our emergency funds ran dry, we would need to make decisions about selling our home and cars. I don’t want us to be in that predicament and that is ultimately the reason I wanted this policy. The policy provides 40% of my income on a monthly basis which is enough to allow us to maintain our current lifestyle with only a few modifications.
I also realize that I’m in my 40’s and even though I’m healthy this is the decade that events start to happen in one’s life. I value security and while we can’t be prepared for everything that might happen in our lives, we do have the ability to at least soften the blow.
If we were living paycheck to paycheck and had the potential to lose everything if one of us got hurt I would have signed on the dotted line immediately for the more expensive policy. Fear is a big motivator for making decisions quickly and without doing your homework.
While I am privileged enough to have such a large emergency fund, any emergency fund can help you make better decisions for yourself. Take for example, someone who has a $2,000 emergency fund and their car breaks down, using a car service like Uber for a week won’t require them to go into debt on a credit card while their vehicle is being repaired. They also aren’t in a position to beg for rides from friends or coworkers. There is security and comfort in knowing you can take care of such situations without everything in your life falling apart.
Mental Health Stigma
Now that the policy is finalized, I emailed the agent from the other company and mildly scolded him on the aggressive sales tactics he used, while also informing him that denying a person for seeking the help of a therapist can be perceived as prejudice. My hope is he forwards the email I sent. That someone in the company will right the wrong and address the issue. Likely, that isn’t going to happen. The scare tactics must work or they wouldn’t do them.
I learned a lot through this process but none of it was necessarily positive. I am less likely to see my therapist going forward. The whole process made me feel broken. I will also be certain not to mention to any health care provider that I’m stressed as its imperative that any type of diagnosis related to stress not be on my medical record. Should I, for example, start having migraines and am unable to work, I’m afraid that any mention of stress in my chart will allow the company to deny my claim based on the exclusions in the mental health rider. If they can say the stress has caused my migraines, then I’m out of luck.
It’s sad really…because therapy is healthy. Dealing with your issues is healthy. Denying your issues leads to substance abuse and suicide. Companies should not penalize anyone who seeks a healthy path to address their mental health. These types of situations add to the societal stigma that surrounds mental health treatment and are part of the reason why people don’t seek help.