New program increases availability of affordable mental health services

Victoria O’Brien

Launched by family of the late Luke Bell

When Carol Bell got her first royalty check after country musician Luke Bell’s death, she and Luke’s sisters, Jane and Sarah, knew they wanted to do something meaningful with the money. After thought and discussion, they decided to use Luke’s earnings to support those in the Big Horn Basin seeking change through therapy by founding The Luke Bell Memorial Affordable Counseling Program [LBMACP]. The program will provide vouchers for 10 therapy sessions with a sliding scale co-pay to any person living in the Big Horn Basin (Big Horn, Park, and Washakie counties) who is over 18 and earns less than $65,000 annually. The program looks to eliminate many of the barriers that traditionally deter prospective patients from starting therapy and provides valuable financial assistance to any adult seeking a mental health professional.
Luke Bell, a singer-songwriter who called the Big Horn Basin home, was raised in Cody and spent summers in Greybull working as a ranch hand. In 2015, following the death of his father, Bell began drinking heavily and behaving erratically, which Carol Bell and his family initially put down to a mix of alcohol abuse and grief. What they did not know was that he had begun hearing voices and was displaying symptoms of what would eventually be diagnosed as Bipolar II disorder with psychotic features.
“Our family has no real history of mental illness, so we had no idea of how often mental illness and addiction co-occur,” explained Carol.
Over the next several years, Bell’s condition gradually worsened. In 2017, he had his first breakdown and in 2019, he briefly experienced homelessness. Luke  actively sought treatment and therapies, but found constant frustration with the cost of mental healthcare. Oftentimes, as a professional musician, Bell lacked health insurance, but even when he had insurance, the therapist he worked best with was out-of-network, leading to higher co-pays he could not always meet. Consequently, he could not regularly see his therapist nor could he receive consistent care, a critical necessity given the nature of his diagnosis.
Following Bell’s death in August 2022, his mother and sisters assumed control of his estate, which included his music’s royalties — a sum paid out to a songwriter for every copy sold, streamed, or performed. Collectively, the family chose to put that money and any future royalties accrued toward the creation and continuous funding of the LBMACP.
“It’s important that Luke’s life isn’t romanticized,” Bell said. “But I  also want other families to feel less lonely if they’re struggling with mental illness.” She added that growing up in bootstrap culture limited her ability to process her feelings for a time, and so she and others around her sometimes sought to ‘cowboy up’ instead of exploring their mental health. “When we were depressed, the question we asked wasn’t, ’What happened to me?’ but ‘What’s wrong with me?’”
During her son’s struggle with mental illness, Carol Bell moved to Denver, Colo., where she received her Master’s degree in Counseling from Regis University. She now practices at Foundation Counseling in Cody, Wyo.
“Society is just now coming to terms with the connection of mind and body, and how the mind influences the body,” she said, noting that psychiatry is still a relatively new field of medicine and that biases against it have endured until more recently, though biases are subsiding more slowly in rural communities.
The National Institutes of Health estimate that 57.8 million American adults are living with some form of mental illness. Another 20 million people under the age of 18, or 1-in-5 American children, are estimated to be struggling with a form of mental illness as well, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In all, 75% of American families struggle with mental illness.
Among those diagnosed, the non-profit Mental Health America [MHA] noted that in 2023, 42% reported they could not afford treatment and a further 17% said their insurance carriers would not pay enough to cover the cost of therapy. In 2021, the mental health advocacy group Inseparable found the average cost of one hour-long session with a psychotherapist was $174, a major roadblock for many Americans actively seeking help.
In Wyoming, conversations surrounding mental health are becoming increasingly prevalent. However, resources remain limited. The MHA report found 54% of people diagnosed with a mental illness said they could not afford treatment. Many also said they did not know where to find treatment or insurance would not cover enough of their care’s cost. What’s more, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Wyomingites are twice as likely to be forced out-of-network for mental healthcare, making it both more difficult to find care and more prohibitively expensive due to higher out-of-pocket costs.
“We want it to be something that takes the burden off upfront,” she said. “We wanted to make it something you can do on a dark night in a minute — in less than a minute, really — and remove all of the traditional steps and barriers to get you to the first appointment.”
Since its launch, LBMACP has approved eight applications, connecting people with therapists throughout the Big Horn Basin. In addition to the royalty money left by her son,  Carol raised $40,000 and received a generous donation over the holidays that she hopes will enable the program to help more people in the communities her son loved.
“It feels healing for me, Jane, Sarah, and my family to use Luke’s earnings,” she said. “It feels like an important step in my grief process. It makes his loss have meaning.”
The Bell family encourages those who wish to make a donation to the fund or apply for the program, please visit

Mental Illness Statistics | NIH

Children’s Mental Health | APA

Mental Health Statistics | USA Today
    >State of mental Health in America Report 2023 | Mental Health America (pg 22)

Access Across America | Inseperable (pg 2)

Wyoming State Fact Sheet | NAMI

Rural Mental Health Crisis | Mental Health America