Four years ago, the anxiety I’ve dealt with my whole life evolved into something much more debilitating, frequent, and—at times—terrifying. Four years ago, I had a panic attack in the middle of donating blood during a Red Cross drive at work. Whether it was the catalyst or a random event, I can pinpoint that day as the start of my daily struggle with mental health.
In those four years, I’ve started and stopped taking antidepressants, learned necessary coping mechanisms (like practicing self-care), and gotten comfortable sharing the inner-workings of my mind with friends and strangers. But what I haven’t done—except once, just to get advice on tapering off the aforementioned antidepressants—is get help from a mental health practitioner.
Sadly, this is the norm for our country. An estimated 1 in 5 adults (47.6 million people) in the U.S. are living with a mental illness; yet, only 43.3% actually received care/treatment in 2018.* That means somewhere around 26.6 million people didn’t get the help they need last year.
*2018 stats from the National Alliance on Mental Illness
For years, therapy was out of reach for me—just like it is for millions of others.
For starters, therapy wasn’t something my friends and I talked about. My only impression of it came from fictional media: therapists in movies and TV. I knew one person who had gone, but she’d experienced real trauma; I’d have nothing to blame my issues on.
Even if I felt comfortable going, I still wasn’t going to be able to afford upward of $100 per session. Costs can reach up to $300/session out of pocket, and many professionals don’t accept insurance.
Not to mention, the plan I was on four years ago required a referral to see a specialist, and the referral my doctor gave was for an older male with poor online reviews. Not someone I would have been comfortable being vulnerable with in a one-on-one setting.
I cut my losses years ago and gave up on the idea of accessible, affordable mental health care. Turns out, I just didn’t know where to look for it.
Please don’t let money or stigma or anything else get in the way of getting the care you deserve. These are some alternative ways to get free/discounted, convenient help when you need it.
1. Medical Insurance
Currently, Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Coverage Parity laws require most insurance plans to cover mental health care just as they would physical health care.
Pro: You’ll only have to pay a copay during each visit.
Con: You’ll have to choose from network providers. Also, there may be limits on how much is covered during a plan year.
2. Employee Assistance Program
Your employer may offer access to an employee assistance program—a free and confidential service providing short-term counseling, referrals, and follow-ups for personal and/or work-related problems.
Pro: It’s a generous benefit (if your employer offers it).
Con: You may be limited on how often you can use the program.
3. NAMI Helpline
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offers tons of information on mental health resources on their website, and they have a helpline to offer you assistance finding the support you’re looking for: 800-950-NAMI (6264).
Pro: Their staff can give you personalized recommendations for resources.
Note: The helpline is not for emergencies and is only staffed Monday through Friday between the hours of 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Eastern Time.
4. 7 Cups
This volunteer-run website (also available as an app for Apple and Android devices) offers free emotional support 24/7. Connect at any time to chat with a real person. 7 Cups also offers access to licensed therapy for $150/month.
Pro: Free, always available.
Con: The free service is manned by peer volunteers—not mental health experts.
5. Give an Hour
Give an Hour is a nonprofit that offers no-cost mental health counseling via its nationwide network of providers. Since 2005, they have offered services to service members, veterans, and their families—and have, more recently, expanded to help others in need like survivors of mass shootings.
Pro: Access free counseling through licensed providers.
Con: This service is currently not available to everyone. You’re limited to one hour per week; however, your provider will make themselves available to you once per week for at least one year as long as the need is there and it continues to be a good fit.
6. Open Path Psychotherapy Collective
Open Path Psychotherapy Collective is a nonprofit that connects people in need with mental health care providers across the country. Participating providers offer their services at fixed rates (between $30 and $60 per session).
Pro: Receive discounted mental health care for as long as there’s a financial need.
Con: There’s a one-time $59 membership fee.
7. Sliding Scale Therapy
It’s the same concept as what Open Path Psychotherapy Collective is doing; you’ll just have to do a little work on your own. Many mental health care providers will offer their services at lower prices for those in financial need. You may have to ask around to find the right provider who will work with you, and you may have to submit proof of your financial situation.
Pro: Pay for what you can afford.
Con: You have to take the initiative to find the right provider who will work with you.
8. Group Therapy/Support Groups
Not just for substance abuse issues, group therapy and support groups can be a viable alternative to traditional therapy for many people. Some people attend these in tandem with one-on-one sessions, while others rely solely on group settings. To find one near you, try a Google search of something like this: anxiety support group + [your city].
Pro: Less $$ than one-on-one therapy. Support and empathy from others who are struggling/in recovery.
Con: You have to share your time with others. May not be anonymous/confidential.
Talkspace is the answer for someone who wants to be in regular communication with their mental health care provider but doesn’t want to pay an arm and a leg for that convenience and accessibility. Plans range from $65-$99/week (billed monthly).
The platform lets you connect with your therapist via text, video, and audio recordings 5 days/week. You’re matched with a therapist who remains with you as long as they continue to be a good fit.
Pro: Constant communication with your provider. Can use text, video, or audio messages to communicate—along with optional live video chats.
Con: Can be pricier than other options—depending on how often you use it.
10. Training Clinic
If you want the benefits of therapy at a lesser cost, one option is to seek help from a grad student in the mental health field. The Association of Psychology Training Clinics offers a list of training clinics in the U.S. where you can get help from a provider who is supervised by a licensed practitioner.
Pro: Cheaper than fully licensed professional care. You’re helping students get practice as they help you.
Con: Clinics likely won’t be able to handle medication management. You may be put on a waitlist before you can get an appointment.
If you or someone you know is suicidal or in emotional distress, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Trained crisis workers are available to talk 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.