ELLICOTT CITY, Md. – After a strenuous kick-boxing
session at the gym that resulted in a twisted ankle, Walen Pongsupapat
walks with a limp.
“I bandaged it myself,” she said, indicating the Ace
bandage wrapped around her left ankle. She has not been to see a doctor for the
injury, because she has not been able to afford health insurance.
“But, I will go to the doctor if it doesn’t get better,” she said.
Aside from her injury, the 21-year-old student at Howard
Community College said she also suffers from chronic depression that requires
regular psychiatric visits.
The native of Thailand has lived in the United States for
six years without health insurance. She works part time at a 7-Eleven store in
“I just felt like it is expensive here [in America], and I
don’t know if I need [health insurance],” she said.
In fall 2002, Pongsupapat sought help from the mental
health counseling center at Howard Community College. She said a doctor
diagnosed her with depression. Since then, she said she takes advantage of the
school’s free counseling services for students, seeing a therapist every other
But the counseling sessions, she said, were not enough to
ease her depression.
“I couldn’t sleep, and I couldn’t eat,” she said. “I didn’t
want to go to school.” She said her grades dropped and she stopped attending
classes. In November, Pongsupapat withdrew from school for the semester
and flew to Thailand.
She stayed overseas for about three months. While in Thailand, she said she was able to see a
psychiatrist who prescribed her Zoloft for her depression, which she took once a
day. She returned to the United States in late January to re-enroll for the
She said she expects to go home again this summer, for a
month or two, to see her parents and visit a psychiatrist.
On her last trip to Thailand, she purchased prescription
drugs to bring back to the United States. When she runs out, her mother will
send her more.
said that the therapist at her college has tried to help her find an affordable
psychiatrist in the United States. She has also started to look for affordable
The plan she is
looking at now is about $50 to $60 a month, but does not cover prescription
drugs, she said.