I am one of the 384,000 people in the New Orleans area enrolled in Medicaid. Here’s how that impacts my mental health care.

By De’Anna Johns

I faced the biggest mental health crisis of my life in 2017. I had moved more than 1,800 miles across the country from my hometown of New Orleans to Los Angeles for school. After months of struggling to balance the heavy workload of school and a full-time job, I dropped out. My goal of getting certified as a clinical medical assistant seemed out of reach. On top of that, I was in a relationship that became emotionally abusive. My ex managed to break every phone that I had while we were together, which meant that I had to buy a new cell phone every few weeks. It made it nearly impossible for my family and friends to contact me during this time.

I felt isolated and depressed with no support system or health insurance. It became harder for me to control my emotions. I’d get angry at the slightest inconvenience or cry without warning. I knew I needed help, but I couldn’t find the courage to ask my family. I didn’t want to disappoint them. Then my phone rang one day in December. It was my mother. When I answered the phone, she greeted me with a simple question: “Do you want me to buy you a plane ticket home?” I felt so relieved. Tears filled my eyes. I said yes, packed all my belongings and left on a plane for New Orleans the next week.

I would not be here today if it weren’t for the support of my family and affordable access to mental health care. Back in New Orleans, I was able to access affordable therapy through my parents’ health insurance. I began seeing a therapist three times a week where I got to take part in art and music therapy, as well as group counseling where myself and other adults talked through our trauma and learned coping skills like breathing techniques, stretching and meditation. The downside? My parents had to drive me 45 minutes one-way to attend therapy sessions because there were no in-network mental health providers close to where I lived in the 7th Ward.

That was almost five years ago. My mental health journey continues. Now I am a senior at Xavier University facing new mental health struggles with limited resources. I haven’t been able to find a therapist who accepts Medicaid, my current health insurance. I’m not alone. Researchers have found that Medicaid patients have greater difficulty scheduling primary care appointments than private insurance patients and that the majority providers nationwide are not willing to accept new Medicaid patients. That trend is mirrored in mental health care. Unfortunately, this is the reality for many people seeking mental health care in the New Orleans area where more than 40% of the population was enrolled in Medicaid in 2020.

As a Lede New Orleans Community Reporting Fellow, it’s my goal to help make a range of mental health resources accessible to those who need them. I want to make a positive change in my community. This cohort has spent weeks researching, interviewing and gathering information about affordable mental health resources. We’ve spoken to experts at the Children’s Bureau of New Orleans and Brightside Collective, and gathered questions about mental health care from community members to help inform our work. We hope to make this information more accessible to our community through this newsletter and other platforms.

I’ve experienced both sides of the disparity in mental health care. That’s why I’m working to make sure resources are available to provide support to the people who need it the most.

De’Anna Johns is a Fall 2022 Community Reporting Fellow with Lede New Orleans. Johns, 25, is a storyteller based in Slidell and a student at Xavier University. An avid traveler, she recently conducted audio interviews with New Orleans residents documenting their international travel experiences.

This article first appeared on Lede New Orleans and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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