Bipolar disorder is a chronic and severe psychiatric illness that affects at least 2% of the population. It is also expensive to have. Cost will vary depending on the severity of the disorder and the insurance coverage that the person has, but it’s never negligible. There are several factors that play into how much it will cost an individual per year, and, unfortunately, whether a person receives optimum treatment or not depends on whether or not they can afford it. Even in ideal situations, the cost of care for bipolar disorder is still high.
I am incredibly lucky for a person living in a country where healthcare is not considered a right. I have excellent health insurance. I also consider myself fairly highly functional, so the treatment I need is minimal to moderate. My costs per month are relatively low. I only pay around $100 per month for my bipolar disorder treatment.
This is not the case for a sizable portion of people with bipolar disorder. Those on disability will have Medicare/Medicaid, which covers most costs, but disability benefits can be difficult to obtain. Even under the Affordable Care Act, there are still more than 4 million people with mental illness who do not have insurance coverage of any kind.
During the first year after diagnosis, patients average $19,000 in costs without insurance. So what are we paying for?
The inpatient rate of bipolar disorder is almost 40%. That means 40% of people with bipolar disorder will be admitted into inpatient care at least once during the course of their illness whether for psychosis, mania or depression. A 9-day inpatient stay can cost around $8,000 depending on the location. This number does not include emergency room visits.
Medication management is vital in the course of treating bipolar disorder, but it requires constant re-evaluation. Seeing a psychiatrist once a month or at least once every three months is normal. This means paying a copay or the full cost of the appointment. Initial visits can be as high as $500 and routine appointments usually cost around $100 without insurance.
How frequently a person attends therapy sessions varies depending on the severity of the disorder and what is happening in a person’s life at the time. Rates for psychotherapy vary depending on the location and the therapist. They average $75-100 for a 50-minute session but can reach as high as $200-$300.
Medication is not an option for most people with bipolar disorder. We have to take it to be able to function. That being said, there are plenty of people with bipolar disorder who do not take medication simply because they cannot afford it. Those who do take medication usually take more than one medication just for bipolar disorder. Rates vary depending on the drugs prescribed and where they are filled. In my case, if I did not have insurance or a drug discount program, my out of pocket costs for three generic medications would be $906 a month, though my pharmacist assured me they would never make anyone pay that amount.
These costs do not cover all of the costs associated with having bipolar disorder. There are also costs for other treatments like substance use treatment and treatments for physical illnesses associated with bipolar disorder. These costs also don’t include lost wages for absenteeism. All told, expect to be out at the very least $1000 a year for proper treatment of bipolar disorder.
Image credit: Hamza Butt