By Amir Salehzadeh
January 31, 2014
Credit : AP/Susan Walsh.

Andrew Mackay, 23, lives in Menlo Park, CA and pays $309 for insurance that used to cost him $454. Although Mackay did not qualify for a federal subsidy to help pay for the cost of insurance, his rate has come down because his pre-existing condition is no longer a factor.

Mackay’s pre-existing condition is bipolar disorder, which doctors diagnosed him with at age 15.

Over a quarter of Americans will be diagnosed with a mental disorder in any given year.

Almost 50 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with one at one point in their lifetime.

Mental disorders are very common among Millennials, according to an American Psychological Association (APA) study, about 44 percent of young people will have to grapple with symptoms of depression, and suicide is the leading cause of death for young Americans.

The same study reported that there has been an increase of 16 percent in mental related healthcare visits since the year 2000.

Mackay puts his mental disorder in perspective.

“Bipolar disorder creates chaos, and can complicate every aspect of life if it gets out of control,” Mackay said.

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CREDIT: Courtesy of Andrew Mackay.

Certainly Mackay has been faced with many lows since his diagnosis.

“I ended up on a street in an unfamiliar city with no money and no way to call someone to take me home.”

To make matters worse, his condition left him no other choice than to drop out of college in 2009.

Now, Mackay is an honors society member because his mental health, “is as good as its been since diagnosis nine years ago.”

And now he’s poised to graduate from college. He says that despite his grades having been “uneven” historically, he has received “excellent grades” this past year.

As it relates to insurance, Mackay says that, “the last thing an insurer wants is someone with a chronic condition.”

It’s worth noting that prior to the new health care law, Mackay was denied from a standard Blue Shield plan and ultimately placed in a guaranteed-issue plan.

Prior to the ACA, his strategy for dealing with his pre-existing condition as to “try to keep the paper train short, because anything you file for could be used as an excuse to jack up your rates. Mental health especially.”

He says insurance companies jumped through hoops and used any slight ailment as a basis for discrimination, “Flat feet? Allergies? Bipolar disorder? All three have been used to deny coverage.”

Despite this improvement, Mackay says that Obamacare does not address the stigma surrounding mental health care.

“Just because you need mental health care doesn’t mean you’ll seek it,” Mackay said.

The law offers mental health, but stigma is a cultural and social construct.

Mackay is content with his new health care plan overall, which gives him security and peace of mind.

Rachel Croopnick, another young American, was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and PTSD one year ago at the age of 20. When learned about her mental disorders she says it was, “a huge punch in the stomach.”

Croopnick shared her story on the What I Be Project. The goal of the project is “building securities through insecurities.”

She shared her insecurities so that many other young people who face mental health adversity can relate to her story and see how she’s coping.

Things began spiraling out of control for Croopnick.

“I found myself stumbling along trying to piece everything together. My medications were changed upwards of five times, my diagnoses changed twice, and I began to hate myself. I lost friendships, my boyfriend and I broke up, and school became difficult,” Croopnick said.

A year later, Croopnick is working to correct the stigma surrounding mental health in this country. She became involved on her university’s campus as a mental health care advocate through student government. She found solace in helping others with her same issue.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) does mandate certain mental health care benefits and requires that most of the 85 percent of Americans who have health insurance have access to mental health care. As a result of the ACA, behavioral health care has seen its largest expansion.

“I simply think that the new law will make mental health care more accessible to those who need it. Maybe with more accessibility people will start to lose their stigmatized views,” Croopnick said. 

Both regarding the stigma surrounding mental health and access to affordable mental health care, Croopnick and Mackay agree; there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.

“If I painted two-thirds of a house I wouldn’t consider it done and throw a celebration. I would paint the rest of the house,” Mackay said.

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