How to Get Mental Healthcare When You’re Young and Broke

There are options.
August 12, 2016, 3:35pm

Photo by Nickolai Kashirin via Creative Commons.

When I asked my therapist if she had any resources for finding affordable mental healthcare that didn't cost $216 an hour, she laughed. Granted, all her services currently cost me is $5 in copay, but that will end when I'm no longer covered by my dad's insurance. I know I'm not the only young and broke person hurtling towards—or existing in—a mental health crisis with no affordable coverage in sight, so I decided to check out other options.

GET FEDERALLY INSURED My therapist recommended I check out the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Like most government agencies, HHS doesn't have a great reputation for reliability or efficiency, but the affordable care (a.k.a. Obamacare) it provides is your best bet if you need continuous coverage. Most people can only apply to be covered by HHS during a three-month open enrollment period at the end of the year, but those with qualifying life changes or falling below a certain income level can apply to enroll year-round. Every state has different levels of coverage, so search your area, create an account, and fill out your state's Marketplace application to see what level of coverage you're eligible for.


HHS funds non-profit Community Health Centers (CHC's) to provide primary care to the underserved. You're charged for services on a sliding scale based on income, and you can seek care at a CHC regardless of whether or not you're insured. Find the CHC nearest you by entering your location into this nifty locator map. Not every CHC offers mental health services, though, so you'll have to contact them directly to see what therapy programs they offer, as well as if they have doctors who can prescribe medication.


If you don't like hopping around geo-locators and scrolling through lists of phone numbers, there's an organization that will do it for you. The National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) offers a helpline with trained staffers who can answer questions on everything from your mental health symptoms, treatment options, and resolving employment or legal issues. While the helpline doesn't provide direct counseling, they can point you in the direction of an affordable mental healthcare facility that fits your needs. NAMI also offers free classes at affiliate locations, with set-session counseling programs and weekly support groups.


Group therapy isn't considered a replacement for individualized therapy, but it can be a great option if you find that you learn best by interacting with and listening to others. The American Group Psychotherapy Association has affiliate societies in 31 states which offer group therapy sessions hosted by Certified Group Psychotherapists. The availability and diversity of groups will vary by state, and most group sessions range from $30 to $80 per two-hour counseling session—which seems pricey, sure, but some one-hour individual therapy sessions cost more than double that price.


Therapists consider Internet Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to be more of a complement to in-person sessions than a substitute for them, but they can be a helpful tool if you don't have access to your own therapist. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America offers a list of apps for people with anxiety, depression, OCD, PTSD, and related disorders that are rated based on ease of use, effectiveness, personalization, interactivity, and research evidence. Most of these apps, and the hundreds of others in the app store, range in price from free to $4.99. For immediate online crisis support, IMAlive is a free online messenger with volunteers certified in crisis intervention ready to speak with you. For non-crisis support, 7 Cups offers free group chat rooms, free "listeners" to who can provide emotional support, (not-free) online therapists, and access to the app's entire series of mental health tools for $12.95/mo.


Even after getting a prescription from a Medicaid doc or CHC connection, the thought of paying for monthly refills can be daunting. But did you know that free, no-strings-attached coupons for prescription drugs exist? The Partnership for Prescription Assistance has a list of sites to check out for cards and coupons that can save you up to 85% on prescriptions. If you want more options, just google "free drug coupons." That may sound sketchy, but it's a totally real thing. It's important to compare which sites offer the lowest price on your specific medications, and most offer a drug-specific pharmacy search option. You're usually not able to layer the discount with insurance unless you have a High Deductible Health Plan, but the amount you pay with the coupons is usually lower than a copay, anyway. Follow Jay Stephens on Twitter.