What should you do if you're under a lot of stress or dealing with a mental health
issue and you don't have the money for treatment?
You're not alone if you're concerned about paying for mental health care. Lots
of people need help and worry that they can't afford it. Even though health insurance
covers mental health issues, it can still be challenging. Some insurance companies
don't cover mental health services very much, and they often have expensive copays
Still, it is possible to find affordable — sometimes even free — mental
health care or support.
Free or Low-Cost Counseling
When it comes to finding a counselor, start at school.School
counselors and school psychologists can provide a good listening ear — for
free! They can help you size up the situation you're dealing with and, if needed,
refer you to more support in your county or community.
If your school counselor can't help, you'll need to do a little more research to
figure out how to get help. Some of the free or low-cost mental health care possibilities
to explore include:
Local mental health centers and clinics. These groups are funded
by federal and state governments so they charge less than you might pay a private
therapist. Search online for "mental health services" and the name of the county or
city where you live. Or, go to the website for the National
Association of Free & Charitable Clinics. The U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services' Health Resources and Services Administration
also provides a list of federally funded clinics by state. (Note:
By clicking either of these links, you will be leaving the TeensHealth site.)
One thing to keep in mind: Not every mental health clinic will fit your needs.
Some might not work with people your age (for example, a clinic might specialize in
veterans or kids with developmental disabilities). It's still worth a call, though.
Even if a clinic can't help you, the people who work there might recommend someone
Hospitals. Call your local hospitals and ask what kinds of mental
health services they offer — and at what price. Teaching hospitals, where doctors
are trained, often provide low- or no-cost services.
Colleges and universities. If a college in your area offers graduate
degrees in psychology or social work, the students might run free or low-cost clinics
as part of their training.
On-campus health services. If you're in college or about to start,
find out what kind of counseling and therapy your school offers and at what cost.
Ask if they offer financial assistance for students.
Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs). These free programs provide
professional therapists to evaluate people for mental health conditions and offer
short-term counseling. Not everyone has access to this benefit: EAPs are run through
workplaces, so you (or your parents) need to work for an employer that offers this
type of program.
Private therapists. Ask trusted friends and adults for recommendations,
then call to see if they offer a "sliding fee scale" (this means they charge based
on how much you can afford to pay). Some psychologists even offer certain services
for free, if necessary. To find a therapist in your area, check the websites of your
state's mental health association
or the American Psychological Association (APA). (Note: By clicking either of these links, you will be leaving
the TeensHealth site.)
To qualify for low-cost services, you may need
to prove financial need. If you still live at home, that could mean getting parents
or guardians involved in filling out paperwork. But your therapist will keep everything
If you're under 26, your mental health care should still be covered under your
parent's insurance policy. It's worth a call to the insurance company to find out
what services the policy covers and how much of those services it pays for.
Programs like Medicaid or the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP)
offer free or reduced-fee medical insurance to teens who are not covered. To find
out if you qualify for mental health assistance through these programs, call your
doctor's office or hospital and ask to speak to a financial counselor. Your school
counselor also might be able to help you figure out what kind of public medical assistance
you could qualify for and guide you through the process of applying.
People under age 18 who live at home will need a parent or guardian to sign off
on the paperwork for these programs. After that, though, your care will be confidential.
A therapist won't tell parents what you've talked about — unless he or she thinks
you may harm yourself or another person.
Getting Help in a Crisis
If you're feeling suicidal, very hopeless or depressed, or like you might harm
yourself or others in any way, call a suicide or crisis hotline. These offer free
help right away.
Suicide hotlines. Toll-free confidential lines like 1-800-SUICIDE
or 1-800-999-9999 are staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by trained professionals
who can help you without ever knowing your name or seeing your face. They can often
give you a referral to a mental health professional you can follow up with in your
Crisis hotlines. These help survivors of rape, violence, and
other traumas, Some may also provide short-term counseling. To find one, do an online
search for your state and "crisis hotline."
Other cost-effective ways to help you work through crisis situations are:
Emergency rooms. Emergency rooms are required to evaluate and
care for people who have emotional emergencies as well as physical ones. If you think
you might hurt yourself or someone else, you can also call 911.
Local crisis centers. Some states have walk-in crisis centers
for people coping with mental health problems, abuse, or sexual assault. They're a
bit like ERs for people who are having an emotional crisis.
and state does things differently. A few might not have crisis centers. Others may
have mobile units that come to you in an emergency. Some crisis centers operate in
hospitals, others are run by non-profits or county mental health services. To see
if there's a crisis center near you, search online for your city, county, or state
and terms like "crisis center," "crisis counseling center," "psychiatric emergency
services," or "crisis intervention."
If you need help finding any kind of services, contact your state's mental
health association or the APA to find out where
you can get therapy and treatment near you. (Note: By clicking either
of these links, you will be leaving the TeensHealth site.)
Paying for prescriptions can really drain your wallet. Here are some ways to be
smart about the money you spend on medicines:
Find out if you can take generic or non-brand medicines. Ask
your doctor or pharmacist if there are over-the-counter versions of the same kinds
of prescription medications.
Find out about prescription assistance programs (also called
"patient assistance programs"). The Partnership for
Prescription Association gives free or low-cost prescriptions to people who qualify
based on income. (Note: By clicking on this link, you will be leaving
the TeensHealth site.)
Compare prices at local pharmacies. Call each to ask what they're
charging for your prescriptions.
Contact the pharmaceutical company that makes the medication.
All the big pharmaceutical companies have prescription assistance numbers you can
call for help.
Beware of free prescription samples (or coupons and rebates).
They sound appealing, but they are often for expensive, name-brand medications. That's
fine while the samples last. But since doctors don't like to change a medication if
it's working, you could get stuck paying full price after the samples run out.
Before accepting a free sample, talk to your doctor about whether you can
afford that medication in the long term. If it's something you'll only need for as
long as the samples last, take advantage of the freebie!
If you're already taking medication, there are two things to know:
Never stop taking a prescribed medication or reduce your dosage because
you can't afford to fill the prescription. Some medications can cause side
effects if they're adjusted or stopped without a doctor's advice.
Never use someone else's medicine. Even if the person has the
same health condition you do, medications work differently for different people.
If you can't afford to refill a prescription, call the prescribing doctor.
Say you're having a hard time affording your meds and need some advice. It's not unusual
these days for people to ask for this kind of help, and doctor's offices often know
how to get it or put you in touch with someone who can.
Parents and Other Adults
Navigating your way through the health care system can be confusing (even for adults).
That's why it's a good idea to have a parent, relative, doctor, school counselor,
or social worker help you connect with a mental health professional.
But what if you want to get counseling without a parent (or guardian) knowing?
In many states, teens can be given mental health treatment without parental consent.
When you call a clinic, hospital, or therapist, ask about your state's rules on parental
consent for mental health services. And, when you see a counselor, find out about
the rules when it comes to filling a prescription. Even if you can get confidential
care, your parents may need to give the OK to fill prescriptions.
Whatever happens, don't let money hold you back from getting help. Affordable mental
health care options are out there — it may just take some time and effort to
find them. But don't give up. Stress and mental health problems don't usually get
better on their own.