Mood is Making Mental Health Accessible to Everyone
This article was made possible by the fine folks at Mood Health.
My editor approached me recently about Mood Health, a mental telehealth service that was interested in advertising on our outlet. He suggested I dig into what they can offer, from a personal perspective, and write up a story on my experience. I wasn’t quite sure if I was more mortified or grateful. But it didn’t take long to realize that he was right, that “it has been a tough year,” and I, like many, could probably benefit from a little mental health tuneup.
In addition to being a broke-ass journalist, I am also a single mother struggling to stay halfway sane in pandemic life. To say it’s been challenging to play warden, job seeker and collections dodger is an understatement. Yet, I know my circumstances are far from unique in the grand scheme of today’s reality and I’m far from alone in needing a little help from time to time.
What I discovered in Mood Health is a safe and affordable way to engage with high-quality mental health professionals from the privacy of your own home, car or wherever it is you feel comfortable enough to air your personal business.
And luckily for those in need, if you use the the code “BrokeAss10” you get $10 off your first session when you sign up right here.
The psychiatry subscription runs $95 per month and gives patients access to monthly check-in appointments with their clinicians and markup-free prescriptions that can be delivered. Appointments can be scheduled for as long as a clinician thinks necessary and the first entails a detailed talk session to determine where you’re at and what path forward is best.
The talk therapy side will cost $89 per 50-minute visit, which can be scheduled weekly or sporadically, depending on your needs and financial situation.
Both modalities are discounted pretty heavily for first visits.
Honestly, the entire process as a patient and reporter left me feeling hopeful about the future of mental health services. The company is so far striking the right balance by prioritizing patients and empowering providers, and in my opinion, their approach is pushing up the bar on industry standards. For now, Mood is available in California, Arizona and Colorado, and they’re happy to keep the service limited until they’ve mastered the service at that scale.
Simply put, I think Mood Health is an excellent option for affordable, intentional, professional and compassionate help with people ready to listen just about as quickly as you can sign up.
While I did have a few critiques as I made my way through the process, I found the pros far outweighed the small cons I noted. Here’s a breakdown of my experience.
Signing up took me through a user-friendly process with fairly extensive checklists provided to help detail my current and past mental health issues, daily habits, family background, current stressors and so on. Members also have immediate access to an online daily check-in where you note how you’re feeling both mentally and physically, identify productive or destructive activities and add detailed notes. Patients can choose to keep that information private or share it with clinicians or therapists ahead of appointments
They require you give an emergency contact they can reach out to in case of a crisis or adverse reaction to medication. It was later explained to me that referring patients to the authorities is a last resort only used in extreme cases where someone is an immediate threat to themselves or others. The emergency contact is the first route, community-based outreach is the next step and police are called only when deemed absolutely necessary. As someone who covers far too many news stories where mental health crises become tragic events when law enforcement is involved, it was important to understand how they handle those incidents as a remote service.
One criticism I had in the signup process was basically a design and directional issue. The initial website landing page directs people to choose from the psychiatry or talk therapy modalities, with an option to choose both. My concern with that small piece is that some people may not be clear on what it is they need, or what the differences are. That confusion can throw people off, especially if they are close to crisis.
When it came time to book sessions, I was a little shocked and pleasantly surprised to see same-day openings.
I nabbed a slot with Liz and we met via Zoom. First, let me say that I am more than a little skeptical of the medical profession and what I’ve observed as a tendency to over-diagnose and over-prescribe, especially in pain management and mental health fields — so, yes, I was hesitant. Liz wasn’t fazed by that at all. She was personable, funny, relaxed and very thorough, and she took more than the allotted 50 minutes to determine that I really didn’t need psychiatric and pharmaceutical help, at this point. However, she was careful not to diminish my stressors and urged me to be open to that level of help if things become less manageable in the future.
We talked about her “lowest dose for the least amount of time” approach to prescribing medicine when needed, which I really appreciated. She didn’t try to upsell or talk me into believing I have any severe conditions. In all honesty, the integrity was downright refreshing.
My next appointment was with a therapist named Diane, who, oddly enough, was once a print journalist — basically, she could relate to some of my specific issues. Again, I found her really easy to talk to.
In the hour we spoke, she got a pretty decent gauge on who I am and what my strengths and weaknesses are. It admittedly takes more than a single session to establish a relationship and mental health plan, but she managed to address my sleep issues and make some suggestions in that first call. We wrapped things up and I walked away feeling like I’d be happy to continue working with her and exploring some of her cognitive behavioral therapy expertise in the future.
I later spoke to Betsy McMichael, a family nurse practitioner and co-founder of Mood Health, about what she thinks sets their service apart from others, and she was genuinely interested in what I thought of the process, criticisms and all.
A unique aspect of Mood is in their hiring of clinicians as regular employees, not 1099 contractors. Each person is deeply vetted with extensive background checks, going well beyond the basic license check used by other services. Clinicians aren’t paid “per patient” so sessions don’t have that hurried doc-in-the-box feel. Providers are empowered to shape treatment and set schedules according to what works best for their patients — they’re also provided continuing education and a wide array of support from the company. McMichael stressed that every meeting is focused on how they can improve on what they’re doing.
The Insurance Issue
One thing to note before you dive in is that Mood does not accept insurance. A representative I spoke with explained this as an intentional decision to keep costs lower for most customers, since insurance providers often reimburse far less than the cost of services, while imposing higher costs associated with red tape. Medications prescribed, however, can be billed to insurance companies and, still, Mood strives to keep prescription costs to $15 so that people paying out of pocket can do so without breaking the bank.
I spoke to McMichael at length on the insurance topic.
While Mood Health certainly keeps cost relatively low, any cost at all can be too expensive for people already struggling to pay the bills. People in those situations are often at the mercy of Medi-Cal coverage, which they don’t currently accept. We talked a lot about access issues for low-income individuals and it turns out that is one of those “improvement” areas they want to tackle by either accepting public insurance in the future or partnering with state and county health departments in some facet.
McMichael was incredibly open about their process and the ways in which she thinks they can provide an even better service, and she was gracious enough to let me pick apart the couple pieces I was concerned with. She exudes an enormous amount of pride in being part of what it is they’re building and is excited to tackle some of those tough barriers.
The pride in what they’re doing seems to permeate throughout the staff, and that alone can offer patients some peace of mind when that’s exactly what they need most.
If you or someone you love is experiencing a tough time or could just use a little tuneup, checking out Mood Health is definitely a step in the right direction. And, please, don’t ever feel ashamed to ask for help when you need it — we’re all in this together.
While the author was compensated by Mood with complimentary services with which to experience the app, all opinions are her own and this review is done in earnest.