The Reality of Mental Illness

I was diagnosed with schizophrenia and major depression when I was 20 years old. I was covered under my parents’ insurance plan for psych meds. At the age of 25 I applied for social security disability insurance because I was no longer covered under my parents’ insurance and it was painfully obvious I couldn’t handle the anxiety of jobs available (i.e. retail and customer service jobs). My psych meds, without insurance, were $2,000 a month in 2006. To offset this, my parents bought a high risk health insurance policy for me that, to this day, they still refuse to tell me how much it cost them. I didn’t qualify for social security disability insurance until late 2008.

To avoid getting thrown out of the system, I couldn’t make more then $700 a month (after taxes) at any job. I had a janitorial job for a few years that I did well in because I wasn’t around people most of the time. After four years on the job, I finally did the math and figured out that for every one dollar I made in work, I lost 72 cents via increased rent (I live in low income housing), decreased benefits, and taxes. I finally gave up on the job because there was no incentive to keep working at what was effectively a 72 percent tax on a minimum wage job.

I am now 40 years old. Haven’t held a traditional job for eight years due to loss in benefits. I still need the psych meds every day or I would be homeless, in prison, or dead. We don’t even have long term mental health hospitals in large numbers anymore in the US. And if I want to save money in case of emergencies, I’d lose benefits if I ever had more than $3,000 in savings. This is all for a chronic mental illness that I didn’t bring upon myself. I was an honor student in high school who qualified for a $5,000 a year scholarship for college. I was studying to get into medical school. Lost most of my friends, most of my support group, any chance at a family, any shot at a career, etc. so I could keep the insurance for psych meds and treatments that would now, in 2021, cost $4,000 a month. And I receive zero dollars in food stamps. The support of my understanding and upper middle class family during the two plus years I was waiting for disability to get approved (which was faster than normal because we hired an attorney) is the only thing keeping from going bankrupt and homeless. So my case with severe mental illness is actually better than most people in the US. As it is I live on my own in low income housing in a small town in the Midwest and can live independently off my disability pension because I have no debt. Most people in my circumstances are far worse off.

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