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…while protecting your own financial security.
by Grace S. Yung, CFP
Mental illness can affect nearly everyone. It is estimated that almost 60 million Americans experience some form of mental health condition each year. No matter what age, race, religion, or sexual orientation, mental illness has an impact on the lives of roughly one in every four adults, and one in every ten children across the U.S. today. (Source: National Alliance on Mental Illness)
Many adults with mental illness are unable to hold down a job or support themselves, so it is often difficult to obtain quality medical care or even to fund everyday living expenses.
When a loved one suffers from cognitive impairments such as post-traumatic stress disorder or bipolar disorder, it is natural to want to assist them both physically and financially. But where should you begin?
How to Support a Loved One with Mental Illness
There are many challenges that can come with supporting a loved one who has a mental illness. While we may want to just “dive in” with our support, there are some important first steps that should be taken.
First, it is essential to educate yourself about your loved one’s particular illness, as this will really form the foundation of your support. Knowing how your loved one’s illness actually functions can dispel many misconceptions, and can help you provide more effective assistance.
Likewise, having realistic expectations can also have an impact on your loved one’s treatment and recovery process. Although this can be tricky, by working closely with his or her treatment team, you will be able to fine-tune a realistic plan over time.
It is also important to be encouraging to your loved one, and to convey hope to them whenever possible. Because your actions can often influence your loved one—and in turn, impact their symptoms—you should try to avoid becoming angry, and instead remain patient and understanding with them.
Getting assistance for your loved one may become easier due to the new healthcare reform laws. Mental-health services are one of the Affordable Care Act’s 10 essential health benefits that must now be offered with no lifetime cap on benefits. This includes behavioral health treatment, counseling, and psychotherapy.
Likewise, Medicaid is also available for those who have no income or assets, but need assistance with mental health-related issues. This joint federal/state health insurance program pays medical costs for a broad array of mental-health care and community-based services that can help improve your loved one’s condition, as well as reduce financial strain.
When it comes to finances, there is also other help available. One potential source of income is Social Security Disability Insurance for those qualified individuals who are unable to work due to their illness. While this benefit is often difficult to obtain, it is usually awarded if the claimant has a strong support network and a solid case that has been documented by medical professionals.
Taking on the financial care of a loved one often requires sitting down with a financial adviser in order to hash out a budget that may include cutting expenses in one area in order to afford new expenses in another.
From a longer-term perspective, planning ahead may help ensure that your loved one has enough money for both daily living and long-term security. Here, having a will in place can help make sure that he or she has the financial support needed, and it helps if there is a trusted adviser who can assist them going forward.
Other scenarios may call for the creation of various types of trusts, or naming your loved one as a restricted beneficiary of an annuity in order to ensure ongoing financial support for the individual. This way, he or she can have the benefit of receiving a lifetime income without worrying about quickly spending down a large lump-sum death benefit.
Another option is to purchase an immediate annuity in order to provide current income now for your loved one. However, it is important to ensure that this income will not interfere with any government-related benefits that your loved one is presently receiving, or may be eligible for in the future.
One of the best ways to educate yourself about a loved one’s mental illness and to find support is to seek out various websites, publications, and organizations that can provide helpful information. There are a number of printed and online resources available that can help those who are affected by cognitive impairment, as well as the family, friends, and loved ones who care about them. Some of the best resources include:
The National Alliance on Mental Illness is the foundation for hundreds of state organizations, NAMI affiliates, and volunteer leaders who work in local communities across the U.S. to help raise awareness and provide education and support regarding mental illness. (Source: NAMI.org) The organization also promotes research and addresses the stigma of mental illness in hopes of decreasing the barriers to treatment and recovery. For more information, visit nami.org.
Mental Health Resources, Inc., is a nonprofit organization that provides community-based mental health services to adults who are recovering from mental illnesses. It collaborates with patients and their loved ones to provide learning and growth opportunities for individuals and those who care for them—with the expectation of success. This entity has a key focus on those dealing with substance abuse and/or social-related conditions. For additional information, go to mhresources.org.
The U.S. government also provides helpful resources for those who suffer from mental illness. This website offers education and guidance for the general public, as well as for health and emergency-preparedness professionals, policy makers, school systems, government and business leaders, and local communities. It also provides information on how to obtain mental health assistance for consumers, as well as for veterans and their families. For more information on this resource, go to mentalhealth.gov.
Personal finance-related questions may be e-mailed to [email protected]
Grace S. Yung, CFP, is a certified financial planner practitioner with experience in helping domestic partners plan their finances since 1994. She is a principal at Midtown Financial LLC in Houston.