Have You Budgeted Enough for Your Kids' Mental Health Needs? If Not, Here's How to Start in 2022

Parents are taught to prepare for diapers and daycare, but very few budget for kids’ long-term mental health. Here’s what you need to know to start a sinking fund today.

Mental health is crucial for leading a successful life. It determines how we think, act, and behave. And that being said for adults, know that it is even more relevant for kids.

According to a 2020 report on adolescent mental health by Dialogical, an online site for psychologists, "approximately 13% of children suffer from anxiety" and "about 20% of teens suffer from depression during their teenage years."

How could this be? Children are resilient, but they are also sponges. Quarrels between parents, abuse, violence, grief, online harassment, and toxic relationships—among many other things that kids might experience but are too young to emotionally process—may leave scars that even they don't recognize until much later in life. And few parents/guardians have the finances set aside to pay for the mental health resources that can help turn things around for the kid(s) in question.

The good news? COVID-19 has made telemedicine readily available, and mental health therapies are less stigmatized. Many psychiatrists and psychologists are now providing their professional services online at affordable prices, which can be easier on any parent creating a budget to match fast-mounting needs and/or the mental health of multiple kids.

According to thervo, a talk therapy session will likely cost $60 to $120 per session. However, the price can vary depending on the sessions booked, your location, and the kinds of supplemental materials needed—such as medication, books, emotional support pets, and more.

While the lowest possible cost for therapy that we've found is $20 per hour (with practicum students), others can reach $250+ per session. So if you haven't already started saving for your kids' mental health needs, here is the information you'll need to start.

An image of a mother hugging her young son.
Getty Images.

Create a sinking fund for your child's mental health.

Budgeting for children's mental health is essential, because it affects their entire lives. Usually, mental health care is divided into different sessions: Some are twice a week, others weekly or monthly. So this is a long-term commitment, and you need to prepare for it beforehand.

Every service has a different framework. On average, mental therapy can last for 12 weeks to even hears, depending on the patient's condition. A 12-week therapy set could cost around $1000, but also could be offset by health insurance reimbursements or provided by low-cost government-run or school-mandated services. Estimates may vary greatly.

Creating a sinking fund is a great way to save money and create a budget for your children's mental health. If your family doesn't need mental healthcare now, create a fund where you can save a small amount every month for future needs. Then, whenever the need arises, you can withdraw the money and utilize it for the well-being of your family.

A sinking fund is different from a savings account, emergency fund, or college fund; it's a preplanned strategy for accumulating money for a specific purpose such as mental healthcare, car tire changes, or Christmas gifts. This kind of savings fund allows you to consciously save a fixed amount every month, as a line item in every monthly budget. If you've never tried this before, consider Every Dollar to create and monitor your sinking fund online.

Also, remember that most health insurance plans reimburse for visits with a psychologist, psychiatrist, licensed counselor, and therapist—but they also ask for proper documentation of treatment and payment plans. They usually require doctor's notes to justify supplementals, such as medicine, learning tools, or herbal remedies. Therefore, ask your doctor to provide everything in writing, so you will be able to recover your costs and replenish the fund.

Know the common therapies and treatments.

There are various kinds of mental health therapies. Every child is different, so they might need a different kind or combo over time. The cost of therapies and treatments varies depending on the service, location, and health professional. Generally, providers may not share prices of such services upfront on their websites, so don't hesitate to ask about the potential for a sliding scale or payment plan.

Here is a quick cheat sheet to consider when asking about possible costs for specific approaches:

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a therapy typically used for children with autism. This therapy can be utilized in multiple ways. Typically, psychologists reward children by encouraging skills such as communication or language; conversely, harmful behaviors are discouraged.

Art and Music Therapy refers to working with a certified therapist to make art: songs, drawings, painting, and multi-media work. This process stimulates different areas of the brain, relieves stress, minimizes depression, and improves confidence.

Child-Centered Play Therapy (CCPT) is a play-based therapy in which children are engaged in a positive environment. The counselor develops an empathetic relationship with the child, forming a foundation for positive change.

Child Anger Management Therapy helps regulate emotions and behavior. Psychotherapists use various psychological techniques to help a child manage anger as well as hyper-reactive behaviors.

Gender/Sexual Identity Issues can cause anxiety in children and teens, and may require hormonal or medical support systems further down the line. Some kids may be uncomfortable talking about safe intimacy or gender identity with their families; gender identity therapy can allow your child to work with trained health professionals in order move towards a healthier relationship with their own body and their true, self-determined gender identity.

Trauma-Focused Therapy is often necessary for children who have witnessed traumatic events such as the death of a loved one, abuse, or domestic violence. As psychologist Anthony Mannarino, MD, explained to the American Psychological Association, two thirds of American children experience trauma by the age of 16. With trauma-informed therapy, children can engage in productive, healing conversations with psychotherapists and learn to narrate, process, and move beyond the traumatic events.

Medication may also be recommended, in addition to therapy, if your child is seeing a psychiatrist.

Plan for therapy for parents and siblings, too.

Of course, mental disorders are not limited to children and adolescents. Stress, anxiety, depression, and nervousness can affect people of any age; after all, a divorce, a death, or a natural disaster can hit everybody in the family emotionally in different ways, and at different times. Moreover, every family member might have individual problems and stressors that could be helped by professional care.

Keep costs low.

If you have insurance, the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act supports you if your insurance company denies treatment or creates disproportionate barriers to care or reimbursement for substance abuse or mental health conditions.

Some schools and school districts provide free counseling to students, so that's an option as well. For more information, ask your child's school Parent Teacher Association or principal.

Similarly, mental healthcare services are included in most college and universities' required healthcare packages. Exhaust those possibilities before asking for care from a private physician, counselor, or therapist.

If you are looking for affordable mental health services, various resources provide sliding scales and flexible payment options:

Budget through tax-advantaged medical accounts.

HSAs (Health Saving Accounts) and FSAs (Flexible Spending Accounts) are tax-advantaged medical accounts. You can use these accounts for health expenses that your insurance plans usually don't cover.

One of their biggest advantages? You can make tax-free contributions to these accounts from your gross pay. Additionally, you can also create a Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account, or DCFSA, to tackle your child's health expenses. You cannot create both an HSA and FSA account in the same year. Learn more about which is right for your family: HSA vs FSA.

Bottom line

Stress, anxiety, depression, etc., can hinder children from achieving their goals and leading a full life. Thus, parents need to plan for services early. Otherwise, untreated issues could balloon into much more complex problems that require costly or long-term remedies.

Create a sinking fund when your child is preschool-aged so that you will be financially prepared if a medical need arises—whether it's physical, behavioral, or mental health-related—later in life.

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