New study examines expenses of mental health care in BC

Professor Sonya Cressman discusses lack of financial support for depression treatments

This is a photo of the outside of the academic quadrangle building at the SFU Burnaby campus. The square building is concrete with many large windows.
PHOTO: Gudrun Wai-Gunnarsson / The Peak

By: Hailey Miller, Staff Writer

SFU health sciences professor Sonya Cressman conducted a study on the costs for British Columbians to seek mental health care for major depressive disorders. The results found that financial costs are high for people seeking treatment, especially in the first 12 weeks where expenses are the highest. These expenses decrease if treatment is successful, but remain high if a patient’s depression doesn’t go into remission. The Peak spoke to Cressman to find out what needs to be done to reduce barriers and costs of mental health treatment. 

Cressman explained how in order to reduce many of the expenses related to mental health care and treatment, the first step is to help prevent mental health problems in the first place. Cressman stated that treatment is most effective if people “get treatment as quick as possible.” Treatments for depressive disorders most commonly include counselling and prescription drugs such as antidepressants. 

Cressman noted not every method of treatment will be effective for every individual, as each case is unique. If access to treatment is efficient and effective, the amount of mental health care costs is reduced — both for the patient, and the healthcare system. However, this is not always the case. To combat this, Cressman said genomic tests can determine “whether or not a patient is likely to respond to a certain antidepressant.” A match can be predicted earlier on in the treatment process, hence reducing overall costs. 

Financial burdens can arise if people have to pay out of pocket or if they cannot work due to their mental health conditions, which can also present as physical challenges. Out-of-pocket costs can increase between 215 times greater than that covered by the healthcare system, which equates to an added cost of about $735/week for individuals seeking treatment.

According to Cressman, reducing financial barriers for students seeking mental health treatments through university funding is an important step. This includes using the counselling and mental health care apps that are offered, and keeping conversation open between students, professors, and peers. University funding and supports are just one step that needs to be taken, but Cressman said these resources are a good start. Cressman explained that “taking that initial step” to see a therapist is often the hardest when seeking support. She stated that a supportive culture is most helpful to combat these challenges. 

Cressman noted the importance of prevention is the key to reducing mental health care costs, as early treatment and detection of mental health is a preventative measure that leads to successful outcomes. 

You can read more about Cressman’s study and results on BMC Health Services website.

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