15 Ways to Get Low-Cost or Free Mental Health Care Without Insurance
Tending to mental health as we tend to physical health is a crucial part of overall wellness. Regular mental health screenings, preventative care, intervention services and long-term mental health support are critical to curating a healthy mind and fostering emotional well-being.
Whether you or a loved one has struggled with substance abuse or are experiencing short-term emotional distress, seeking additional resources can help.
Why Addressing Mental Illness Can Be Expensive
Unfortunately, for those without health insurance, the cost of getting support from mental health professionals can become a barrier to seeking care. According to Psychology Today, the average cost of one therapy session without insurance can be anywhere from $100 to $200.
A report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found only 47% of U.S. adults with a mental illness are receiving treatment. And that a lack of insurance, alongside other factors, was delaying treatment and preventing access to care.
Fortunately, there are many free services or free clinics available that offer confidential support and provide counseling in communities across the country.
In Crisis? Call 988 to Connect to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Before listing organizations that provide services for free, let’s be clear that if you or a loved one is considering self-harm or harm to others, you should call 988. The idea is similar to 911, but instead of connecting to law enforcement or EMTs, callers will be connected with a trained mental health professional immediately.
A call to 988 will connect to one of the more than 200 local crisis call centers that already exist as part of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and SAMHSA’s national helpline. Calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) will be routed to 988.
Callers will speak with a trained counselor at a crisis center closest to them. If that center can’t take the call, it will be routed to one of 16 backup centers.
Prefer a text message? There’s a secure online platform called the Crisis Text Line that provides services. Text HOME to 741741 from anywhere in the United States, anytime.
But what if you feel like you need mental health care but you’re not in crisis?
You should still seek help, even if it’s not through 988.
As with any health concern, not seeking mental health care could be detrimental to your health and to those around you. Here’s how to find help no matter your financial situation.
15 Ways to Find Low-Cost or Free Mental Health Services
Instead of forgoing care or winding up in debt over medical bills, try these options to find affordable or free mental health services.
1. Explore Medicaid or Medicare Eligibility
Look into securing low-cost health care from government-funded programs like Medicaid or Medicare (if you’re over 65). Chances are if you can’t afford mental health care, you might also qualify for assistance.
Before filling out forms, see how the eligibility requirements for Medicaid have changed and if your state has Medicaid expansion.
2. Find a Training Clinic
Like with other areas of health and medicine, students need to practice working with the public before they become clinical psychologists.
That’s good news for any of us who want to save money on therapy.
Training clinics are usually located near or as part of universities. You’ll attend sessions with a graduate student supervised by a licensed psychologist. These clinics typically charge on a sliding fee scale (which could be as low as $0, if that’s where your scale slides.)
To find one near you, you can browse the Association of Psychology Training Clinics for member clinics. Or just search “(your city) psychology training clinic.”
3. Visit a Community Mental Health Center
Community mental health centers may offer access to support groups, individual counseling or resources to learn more about your mental health concerns.
Find a center through the Department of Human Services at your state’s government website.
You can also find services through private nonprofit organizations. YMCA offers low-cost and sliding scale behavioral health and family services for kids and adults. Look for mental health services through your local Y.
4. Attend a Support Group
While you miss out on the personalized care and complete anonymity of private sessions, support groups can be the perfect solution for free or low-cost therapy. They’re especially helpful if you’re in substance abuse recovery or dealing with depression.
Organizations like the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA), the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) host free community support groups in person or online.
If you want to work with a particular therapist but can’t afford private sessions — because you lost insurance coverage or they don’t accept insurance, for example — ask if they offer group sessions. These should come at a lower rate you could potentially afford out of pocket.
5. Negotiate and Ask for Discounts
You might not realize it, but your medical bills are totally negotiable. By a lot.
Don’t be afraid to lowball here — this isn’t a business deal, so you don’t have to worry about making a bad impression.
When you receive a bill for services, don’t just provide payment information that’ll sink you into debt. Contact the provider to let them know you can’t afford it. Some providers may be willing to cut the cost for patients by more than half if you can pay a chunk upfront.
If you don’t have the cash handy, ask for a payment plan. Get on it before the bill goes to collections, and ask for a monthly payment you can handle.
6. See a Therapist Online
Telehealth (or telemedicine) is convenient for a lot of people and could save you a ton of money on health care.
Through an app like Teladoc, you can meet with a health care professional for physical or mental health issues for a fraction of the cost — and time — of a trip to the clinic. Telemedicine doctors can diagnose, recommend treatment and even prescribe medication if necessary.
Or opt for a subscription to a therapy app like Talkspace or BetterHelp. You get access to a licensed therapist via audio or text messaging or live video chat for around $60 to $150 per week, paid monthly.
See our recommendations for affordable telehealth services provided online, including mental health services.
7. Lean on Your Spiritual Community and Leaders
If you’re involved with an organized religious group, you could find the help you need within that community. Just be mindful that while serious disorders require professional intervention that these organizations aren’t equipped to manage, they can help with referrals to social services.
Does your organization host free support groups or retreats where you can connect with others in your situation? Maybe your minister or other leaders in the community offer free individual or couples counseling or other services.
If you’re worried about opening up about your struggles within a small community, remember: Everyone coming to group therapy is looking for help, just like you are.
8. Use Services at Your School or College
College or university students and faculty often have access to health care services through their schools. Your tuition and fees subsidize them, so you might as well contact them to take advantage!
With the support of parents, children enrolled in a K-12 school may have access to sessions with a school counselor, as well. Lean on these options to provide support when your family can’t afford private mental health services.
9. Consult the Internet
Going online to self-diagnose your ailments is no replacement for professional diagnosis and treatment.
But if you already know what you’re dealing with, consulting a relevant association’s website could help when you have questions and lack access to a doctor.
For example, if you have anxiety, you can find reliable resources that provide information at these websites:
- Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America
- International OCD Foundation
Some people also find online interactions, like following a therapist on TikTok or Facebook groups, useful for connecting with other people who understand their situation.
Just be careful to take suggestions from random individuals with a grain of salt — that goes for a therapist who isn’t working with you individually too — and never rely on them for a diagnosis or medical advice.
10. Call NAMI or SAMHSA
In addition to 988, if you prefer to speak with someone directly, you can call the NAMI Helpline (National Alliance on Mental Illness) or SAMHSA to get answers about symptoms, treatments and resources.
The helpline itself doesn’t offer professional services, but it can help you connect with programs in your area.
If you’re looking for international support, John Hopkins has compiled a list of global agencies like the United Nations (U.N.) and the World Health Organization (WHO) that provide mental health support, including for refugees and victims of human-caused disasters.
11. Check Your Employee Benefits
Some companies and government agencies offer something called an employee assistance program, which could cover some free sessions, among other benefits.
Check with an HR representative to learn whether your organization offers this kind of benefit and ask how you can take advantage of it.
Verify that your sessions will be confidential. In some cases, the available counselor is someone working as a consultant with your company and may consult with company leadership as well as counseling employees. They’re likely bound by certain confidentiality requirements, but if you have any concern about your privacy in the workplace, state those requirements in advance.
12. Stop by an LGBTQ Center
If you’re seeking safe and affirming support as an LGBTQ person, look for local LGBTQ centers and support or advocacy organizations. They might offer support groups, access to counseling or resources for LGBTQ-friendly care.
You can search “LGBTQ center in (your city or town)” or browse these resources:
- The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shares a list of LGBTQ support and advocacy groups.
- The Trevor Project, focused on LGBTQ youth support, offers a crisis line you can call, text or chat online with. It also offers text, chat and phone counseling.
- Find a PFLAG chapter near you for support for LGBTQ people, friends, parents and families.
13. Join a Therapy Collective
Open Path is a nonprofit psychotherapy collective that offers low-cost counseling for people with financial need.
You can join the collective for a one-time fee of $59, then receive care for between $30 and $60 per session (up to $80 for couple and family sessions).
The collective lets you search for therapists in your area or speak with someone online, so you should be able to find the help you need no matter where you live.
Open Path doesn’t require income verification for membership, but it asks that you use the service only if you’re uninsured, underinsured, have a household income less than $100,000 a year or otherwise can’t cover market rates for therapy.
Another low-cost or free therapy collective is 7 Cups. Online listeners help connect those in need with counselors or simply offer the chance to chat. You can also lean into the online library of self-help resources or opt to seek counseling services for as little as $150 per month.
14. Don’t Forget About Veterans Affairs (VA)
If you served your country, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs wants to make sure you know it’s here to serve you (and your family) in your time of need. Get access to resources for mental health, including intervention for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, grief and anxiety.
The VA also has mental telehealth services and provides counseling services to caregivers and families of veterans.
15. Connect With the Therapy Aid Coalition
The Therapy Aid Coalition provides free or low-cost mental health services to U.S. health care professionals and first responders. Staffed by an army of 3,000 volunteer therapists and funded by donors, this organization connects first responders in all 50 states with rapid-response mental health services.
Kaz Weida is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. Robert Bruce and Dana Miranda contributed.