Deciding to see a mental health professional is a big step in the right direction when it comes to your mental well-being. Even more daunting, however, can be figuring out how to pay for it.
It's true that many health insurance plans include solid mental health benefits—especially since 2014, when the Affordable Care Act mandated that individual and small-group plans cover mental health and addiction treatment. But not all plans cover these, and there are always out-of-pocket costs you have to pick up that can really add up. No insurance at all? That's another huge hurdle.
Fortunately, you’ve got options. Mental health professionals understand not everyone can afford to fork over major funds for regular visits, which is why they’ve come up with less pricey, even free ways to get the care you need. We asked Theresa Nguyen, vice president of policy and programs at the advocacy group Mental Health America, for her 6 best cost-saving strategies.
Call a warmline
Dealing with a situation that's making you feel depressed, anxious, or otherwise messing with your mental health? Dial a warmline. These are staffed by peers (often people with their own mental health challenges) who are trained to listen and provide support. Services are free, and they're ideal for short-term help—say two or three conversations—to guide you through a rough patch, Nguyen says. You can use the online directory or dial 211 to find a warmline in your area.
Try a therapy app
For a flat weekly rate (starting at $35), the BetterHelp app will connect you with a licensed counselor who’s available to chat—over the phone, text, or video conference—as often as you want. “You can reach out at any time,” Nguyen says, “and you still get to build a relationship with one person.” The Happy app is another option. It’s a peer-based service run by trained compassionate listeners, rather than professional therapists, who are available 24/7.
Ask about a sliding scale
Many clinicians will reduce their normal fee for patients with limited income, especially if you’re able to come during slower pockets in their schedules. While not all therapists have the ability to be flexible, there’s no harm in asking. Some clinics will even take on a certain number of pro bono (aka, free) cases.
Find a local low-cost clinic
Check out SAMHSA; that’s the acronym for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. This site offers an online tool that lets you search for low-cost clinics and support groups in your area. Don’t let the name fool you; the service provides information on options for all types of mental illness, not just substance abuse.
See a trainee
A local grad school or teaching hospital may offer heavily discounted rates for counseling with student therapists. Though they may be less experienced and aren’t yet fully credentialed, there’s no need to worry. They are closely supervised by licensed clinicians, Nguyen says. “Sometimes the students get to spend even more time with you,” she adds.
Call a crisis line
You don’t have to be at immediate risk to call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline, where trained counselors are available to speak at all hours of the day. You can even give it a ring if you’re not personally battling mental illness, but you want to find out how to help a loved one who is.
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