It is not at all uncommon to find that you or someone in your family needs mental health care. The World Health Organization reports that one in four people will have a mental disorder at some point in their lives. There are many mental health conditions from depression and anxiety to bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, and there is help from trained professionals to treat these conditions effectively so that sufferers can still have healthy and fulfilling lives.
Mental health care can be expensive for those who don’t have health savings accounts and/or health insurance and must pay for the entire cost themselves. Just one session with a psychologist or psychiatrist can cost $100 or more, and treatment in a mental health facility can cost hundreds of dollars a day, making it impossible for most people. There are low-cost and free alternatives to mental health care, however, that can get you or a loved one the help you need without breaking the bank.
Here are some affordable mental healthcare options you can use when you need services and can’t afford to pay the usual rates.
1. Get healthcare insurance if you qualify.
The Affordable Care Act has made most insurance policies more costly than they were previously, but if your income falls into the guidelines set by the act, you can get a subsidy that may allow you to get healthcare insurance at little or no cost to you. Unfortunately, the open enrollment period for this insurance is only once a year beginning in November, but if you have had a life change like losing a job or moving out of state, you may be able to enroll at other times of the year.
You may also qualify for Medicaid if your income fits the requirements. For a minor child who needs mental healthcare, Medicaid or CHIP programs may provide coverage even if the adults in the household don’t qualify.
2. Start with a hotline or crisis line.
There are many mental health hotlines and crisis lines you can call, access online, or even text that can give you an immediate listening ear along with some referrals for low-cost or free follow-up care. Most areas now have 211 calling set up, which functions as a hotline for those using a cell phone and offers local resources you can go to for help. Here are some of the other major hotlines and services.
- The Crisis Text Line offers 24/7 counseling via text along with suggestions for in-person help by texting “START” to 741-741.
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255)
- The GLBT National Help Center at 1-888-THE-GLNH (888-843-4564)
- The Crisis Call Center at 1-800-273-8255
- The Samaritan’s Crisis Hotline at 1-212-673-3000
- The National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7223
- The National Crime Victim Helpline at 1-800-394-2255
A hotline is a good starting place because it can provide immediate help during a moment of crisis or extreme need, but you will likely have to go further to find the kind of treatment you need over the longer term.
3. Look for a community mental health center.
These clinics offer affordable mental healthcare services to local communities and can be a great resource for finding the services you need at an affordable cost, or even free. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration’s (SAMHSA) Mental Health Locator and Mentalhealth.gov can help you find a local center where you may be able to get help (although not all of the options listed through these sites are free).
Some private non-profit organizations like the YMCA also offer behavioral health services at low or no cost to members or those in the community.
4. Contact local colleges that train mental health professionals.
Colleges with training programs for mental health workers may offer free or reduced cost services as part of students’ training and education. Services are likely to be well-supervised by instructional staff, so care tends to be just as good as you would get elsewhere. One drawback to using colleges for mental health services is that their hours may be limited or there may be a long wait time to start getting services, but you can really save money and get excellent care if these services are available in your area.
If you are a student at a college, you may be eligible for counseling and mental health services as part of your tuition package or supplementary insurance you pay for through the school. Students in public elementary, middle or high schools and some private schools may be able to receive counseling from the school’s guidance counselor, particularly when the family can’t afford other types of therapy.
5. Try group therapy or support groups.
The cost of group therapy can be significantly lower than individual therapy, with many of the same benefits. If you are comfortable sharing your struggles and needs with a group, it can be a real benefit and save you money over the cost of one-on-one counseling. Many support groups are even free or by donation, and if you find a good one, can be extremely helpful in providing support and help in dealing with your or a loved one’s mental health condition.
Some therapy groups and support groups are even meeting online now, which eliminates the need to travel a distance and can be more convenient for your schedule. Mental Health America offers a listing of a variety of online support groups as well as many other resources for mental health treatment.
6. Ask about sliding scale fees and discounts.
Many therapists and counselors in my area offer income-based sliding scale fees that may be significantly lower than the regular going rate for those with insurance or more of an ability to pay. Most mental health practitioners want to see those that need help get it and are willing to adjust their rates if you can demonstrate a need for them to do so.
7. Online or text therapy.
Online and text therapy are becoming more accepted as legitimate therapeutic techniques and are usually offered at a significantly lower cost than their face-to-face counterparts. While some of the nuances of face-to-face communication may be lost by doing therapy online or by text message, it can still be a helpful tool, especially if it’s more affordable than other types of therapy.
Talkspace offers various types of therapy including text, live talk therapy, and couples therapy through its app or online, and has unlimited plans that start at $49 per week. You work with the same licensed therapist each time, which is good for continuity and so you don’t have to go over your history with someone at every session.
7 Cups is another site that offers free talk with trained volunteers or premium services with licensed counselors and is anonymous if you would rather remain unknown. There are also group and community options to connect with others who have similar struggles to yours.
8. Ask your pastor.
Many churches provide confidential counseling to parishioners through the pastor or another church staff member. Churches may even have a counseling office for this purpose. Counseling provided through your church is usually short-term, but pastoral staff may know of other low-cost counseling you could access to continue to get the services you need.
WHO reports that two-thirds of those with mental health disorders don’t get the help they need, and the expense of mental health care is often a factor that holds people back from getting treatment.
Cost should not be a barrier to getting help for mental health conditions, which can severely impact people’s lives or even lead to suicide in some cases when left untreated. If you struggle with mental health or suspect you may have a mental health condition, you owe it to yourself to do what it takes to get help and live a healthier life, and it is possible to do so in a way that’s affordable and doesn’t cost you money you don’t have.