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Helen DeVos Children's Hospital

Helen DeVos Children's Hospital
100 Michigan Street NE
Grand Rapids, Michigan 49503

Finding Low-Cost Mental Health Care

What should you do if you're under a lot of stress or dealing with a mental health issue and you’re worried about paying 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. Some health insurance companies don't fully cover mental health services, and there may still be some money that needs to be paid out-of-pocket, like copays and deductibles.

Still, it is possible to find affordable — sometimes even free — mental health care or support.

How Can I Get 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 you need more help,  the school counselor may be able to point you in the right direction. Some 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.

    One thing to keep in mind: Not every mental health clinic will fit your needs. For example, a clinic might specialize in veterans or kids with developmental disabilities. If you’re not sure who a clinic serves, it's still worth a call. Even if a clinic can't help you, the people who work there might recommend someone who can.
  • 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).

    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 confidential.

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.

How Can I Get Financial Help for Mental Health Care?

Programs like Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) 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 they think you may harm yourself or another person.

How Can I Get Help in a Crisis?

If you're having thoughts of suicide, feel very hopeless or depressed, or feel like you might harm yourself or others in any way, call a suicide or crisis hotline. These offer free help right away.

You can turn to these resources for 24/7 help:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 or text CONNECT to 741741. You also can contact them through their website.
  • Trevor Lifeline for LGBTQ community: 1-866-488-7386 or text START to 678678. You can also contact them through their website.
  • 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. Each county 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.

How Can I Afford Prescription Medicines?

Paying for prescriptions can be expensive. Here are some ways to keep costs down:

  • Find out if you can take generic or non-brand medicines. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if there are generic versions of the same kinds of prescription medicines, which often are much less expensive than name-brand versions.
  • Check with your insurance company to see which medicines are covered. Sometimes doctors can choose between a few different medicines.
  • Find out about prescription assistance programs (also called "patient assistance programs"). The Medicine Assistance Tool (MAT) matches patients with resources and cost-sharing programs.
  • 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 medicine 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 medicine, there are two things to know:

  1. Never stop taking a prescribed medication or reduce your dosage because you can't afford to fill the prescription. Some medicines can cause side effects if they're adjusted or stopped without a doctor's advice.
  2. Never use someone else's medicine. Even if the person has the same health condition you do, medicines 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 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.

Getting Help From 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 get 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. 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. Mental health care can help you work through stress and get needed treatment for mental health problems.

Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date reviewed: January 2021