In the United States, one in five adults suffers from a mental illness. However, the National
Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) says more than 50% aren’t getting help. Even if they do,
many do it with reluctance.
One of the common reasons why people avoid or forego mental health treatment is the
ongoing medical inflation. Its cost increased by around 53% from March 2020 to August 2022.
Research has shown that this will continue to surge even after the widespread telehealth.
Due to these soaring medical and health insurance costs, mental health often takes a
backseat. Fortunately, taking care of your mental wellness while staying within a budget is
possible. Here are some must-knows to help you get started.
Reach out to Your Insurer
If you have health insurance, be aware of its coverage. If it covers mental health treatments, take advantage of it to save money. If unsure of your health insurance policy’s coverage, contact your health insurance company directly.
But while many health insurance companies have therapy coverage, it’s often limited. For example, they only cover a certain number of sessions. Other plans may also cover therapists within their networks only, such as the EPO.
Note: What is an EPO? It stands for Exclusive Provider Organization. It’s a health plan offering you a local group of doctors and hospitals within their network, which you can choose from when seeking care. As long as you stay within the network, EPO becomes more cost-effective than other health plans. However, if you go out of network, EPO won’t provide coverage.
The bottom line is that each policy is unique, depending on its coverage and which insurance
company provides them. That’s why it’s best to directly contact your carrier, who knows your
policy more, rather than searching for information online.
Look for Cost-Saving Options
Unfortunately, other health insurance companies don’t cover mental health therapy. If they do, the coverage is sometimes so limited that it can’t help you. It’s also difficult to find a healthcare provider who’s in-network with your insurance, specializes in the treatment you need, and is available to see you.
Even worse, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reported that many adults with mental health problems don’t have health insurance. This can be problematic in many ways. If they seek treatment, they can likely get worse from worrying about the high costs of getting treated without insurance.
Conversely, if they leave their conditions untreated, they may worsen over time and cause serious problems. These include poor quality of life, substance abuse, inappropriate incarceration, unnecessary disability, and suicide.
The good news is that there are budget-friendly alternatives to health insurance. Here are some of them:
- Low-Cost Clinics
- Therapists with Sliding Scales
- Student Therapists
- Online Therapies
Find counselors or therapists who work for federally funded clinics and other institutions financially backed by charities or nonprofits. They offer affordable and even free therapy to people of all economic backgrounds, as long as they’re in need of mental health treatment.
The following websites can help you find low-cost mental health clinics:
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHSA)
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
- Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA)
- National Association of Free & Charitable Clinics (NAFC)
These low-cost clinics are specifically recommended for uninsured individuals. They’re also good for those who have insurance but don’t have a high-deductible health (HDHP) plan. In these cases, their coverage will likely not include counseling.
Therapists with Sliding Scales
Many private counselors or therapists offer a sliding rate scale. Simply put, they’re discounts or reduced rates offered to specific patients, particularly those who can’t afford the traditional rates. They’re set to address income inequality and allow for fairness.
Sliding scales are determined based on income and financial hardship. Expect therapists or institutions to ask for proof of these. They typically ask for pay stubs, previous tax returns, Medicaid cards, and other forms of government assistance.
Simply discussing your financial situation is also possible, depending on therapists or institutions. If they can’t offer you a reduced rate, they will usually recommend other places to get low-cost therapy. You can easily find them on websites like Open Counseling, Open Path, and Zocdoc.
Another low-cost way to receive therapy is from graduate psychology students. They have to put in practice hours as part of their training to become therapists, so they conduct sessions with the general public for free or at a very low price, ranging from $15 to $25 for an hour.
Although they’re therapist-in-training and inexperienced compared to others, they’re highly knowledgeable. Otherwise, they won’t be interning. More importantly, they’re often supervised by an experienced professor, so rest assured, you’ll be getting quality services.
Contact local graduate psychology schools or therapist training centers in your area. Ask whether their student therapists are allowed to cater to outside patients. Not every institution accepts outsiders, so it pays to inquire in advance.
Ask whether these institutions bill insurance directly as well. If not, you’ll likely have to pay in cash. Ensure to keep the receipt of your therapy payment and submit it to your insurance carrier. Alternatively, you can pay using your health savings account (HSA) and then have it reimbursed through the Starship HSA app.
With the advent of digitalization, more and more online mental health services are available.
Several insurance companies are now starting to cover them as well, thanks to the
implementation of social distancing to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
This way of receiving counseling over the Internet or without meeting a therapist in person is called online therapy, virtual therapy, or teletherapy. It can be through phone calls, texting, instant messaging, or video calls with a therapist.
Research has shown that it’s an effective form of mental health care. Another good news is that most therapists feel moderately positive about it and will likely continue offering it in the future, according to the American Psychology Association (APA).
On top of all, online therapies are more affordable than other forms of therapy, ranging from $65 to $129 per session, out-of-pocket. They’re almost around half the price of in-person therapies, which usually cost about $100 to $200 (or higher) per session.
Search for Free Options
If you still find the low-cost therapies mentioned above unaffordable, don’t give up. Besides counseling from in-training therapists, there are other free counseling options that you should be aware of, such as the following:
- Workplace Resources
- Religious Counsels
- Support Organizations
Many companies are committed to improving their employees’ quality of life, which can result in higher motivation and productivity at work. One of their ways to do so is by taking care of their mental health, so they often offer mental health services to their workforce.
If you’re employed, contact your human resource (HR) department and inquire about mental health care resources and tools available in your company. If you’re uncomfortable doing so, check on your company’s website whether there’s a confidential way to access them.
Note that these services aren’t always for free. Some companies only offer discounted mental health services to their employees. Others only offer a limited amount of free sessions. Still and all, it’s a great way to make the first step towards better mental health.
Many places of worship offer religious counseling. Like any therapy from doctors, they give people something to believe in, a sense of belongingness and structure, a safe space to share their feelings and difficulties, and a chance to connect and be understood by others.
Findings from various studies support religiosity or strong religious belief or feeling as an effective form of mental health care. Research suggests that it reduces alcoholism, drug use, and suicide rates.
To get religious counsel, go to your place of worship and ask to speak to a clergyperson or someone similar who’s trained in counseling. If you’re unable to visit personally, try to look for a clergyperson through the American Association of Pastoral Counselors (ACPE).
Support organizations are often charity or government-funded groups that offer mental health services to specific demographics in need for free. Examples are the Trevor Project, which supports LGBGTQ+ youth, and the Give an Hour, which helps veterans and other families suffering from tragedies like natural disasters.
They often gather individuals facing common difficulties and issues to share what’s troubling them. By sharing experiences, they can offer encouragement and comfort to the other members and receive the same support in return.
If you’re uncomfortable doing this in person or living far away from the meeting place, these organizations are also easily accessible online. They also have hotline numbers in case you’re in an area without Internet access. Overall, they can offer counseling in person, online meetings, text messages, and phone calls.
There are numerous affordable solutions now for taking care of your mental health. With a little research, legwork, and financial planning, taking a brave first step toward healing is less burdensome than before. If it’s still overwhelming, remember that you’re not alone. Don’t hesitate to ask for help from a trusted loved one or a professional.