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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 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 and deductibles.

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:

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.

Financial Help

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.

Other cost-effective ways to help you work through crisis situations are:

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.)

Prescriptions

Paying for prescriptions can really drain your wallet. Here are some ways to be smart about the money you spend on medicines:

If you're already taking medication, 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 medications 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, 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.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: January 2015


Note: All information on TeensHealth® is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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