988 & Other Ways to Find Low-Cost and Free Mental Health Services
People dealing with a mental health crisis now have a new, free way to seek help.
Simply dial 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 The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Calls to that number (1-800-273-8255) 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.
Since early 2021, the Biden administration has spent $400 million to support the 988 system through investing in mental health services and crisis centers.
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 in the long term, so we want to help you find the care you need with whatever resources you have — the less expensive, the better if you don’t have insurance.
12 Ways to Find Free or Low-Cost Mental Health Services
Instead of forgoing care or winding up in debt over medical bills, try these options to find affordable or free counseling and other mental health care services.
1. Find a Training Clinic
Like other areas of health and medicine, students need to practice working with the public before they become clinical or counseling 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 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.”
2. 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 behavior health and family services for kids and adults. Look for counseling and mental health services through your local Y.
3. 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.
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, for example — ask if they offer group sessions. These should come at a lower rate you could potentially afford out of pocket.
4. 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, contact the provider to simply let them know you can’t afford it. They may be willing to cut the cost 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
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.
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.
7. 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 take advantage!
Children enrolled in a K-12 school may have access to sessions with a school counselor, as well. Lean on these options when your family can’t afford private mental health services.
8. 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 suffer from anxiety, you can find reliable resources at these websites:
Some people also find online interactions, like following a therapist on TikTok or Facebook groups, useful for connecting with other people who understand your 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
9. Call NAMI
In addition to 988, if you prefer to speak with someone directly, you can call the NAMI Helpline (National Alliance on Mental Illness) to get answers about symptoms, treatments and resources. The Helpline itself doesn’t offer counseling, but it can help you connect with programs in your area.
10. Check Your Employee Benefits
Some companies and government agencies offer something called an employee assistance program, which could cover some free counseling 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.
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.
11. 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 and families.
12. 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.
OpenPath doesn’t require income verification for membership, but it asks that you only use the service if you’re uninsured, underinsured, have a household income less than $100,000 a year or otherwise can’t cover market rates for therapy.