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.
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.
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.
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.)
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:
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.
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
|National Mental Health Association (NMHA) NMHA works to improve the mental health of all Americans through advocacy, education, research, and service.|
|Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services This website contains all the information you need to understand your health care.|
|Mental Help Net This site offers helpful content for those seeking help for addiction, eating disorders, and other mental and emotional troubles.|
|American Psychological Association (APA) The APA provides information and education about a variety of mental health issues for people of all ages.|
|National Association of Free & Charitable Clinics The National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics (NAFC) is the only nonprofit 501c(3) organization whose mission is solely focused on the issues and needs of the more than 1,200 Free and Charitable Clinics and the people they serve in the United States.|
|Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS) CMHS is a federal agency that provides information about mental health to users of mental health services, their families, the general public, policy makers, providers, and the media.|
|InsureKidsNow.gov InsureKidsNow.gov provides information about Medicaid and CHIP services for families who need health insurance coverage.|
|Electronic Health Records Because EHRs improve how well your doctors talk to each other and coordinate your treatment, they can enhance your overall care. This article gives the facts on electronic health records.|
|How to Fill a Prescription Taking responsibility for your own health care means understanding things like prescriptions. Read our tips for teens on filling a prescription.|
|Health Insurance Basics Taking charge of your own health care is a big step, and it can be a little overwhelming. Here's a quick crash course on insurance for teens.|
|Taking Charge of Your Medical Care Like learning to drive, figuring out health care is part of becoming an independent adult. Here are tips for teens on what that involves, and how to choose your own doctor.|
|Finding Low-Cost Medical Care If you need medical care but don't think you can afford it, you're not alone. Get tips on finding low-cost or free care in this article for teens.|
|Health Insurance: Cracking the Code Health insurance has a language all its own. This article for teens explains what some key terms mean.|
|Talking to Your Doctor Your best resource for health information and advice is your doctor - the person who knows you, your medical history, and accurate medical information to answer your questions.|
|About Getting and Giving Help Sharing problems can help us cope better. Get ideas on reaching out for (and offering) help in this article for teens.|
|Getting Help for Intense Grief Going through grief and loss is never easy. But in some situations, grief can feel especially intense – even overwhelming. Find out what to do in this article for teens.|
|Going to a Therapist Getting help with emotions or stress is the same as getting help with a medical problem like asthma or diabetes. This article explains how therapy works and how it can help with problems.|
|School Counselors School counselors can give you all sorts of tips and support on solving problems and making good decisions. But how do you meet with a counselor and what is it like? Find out here.|
|Stress & Coping Center Visit our stress and coping center for advice on how to handle stress, including different stressful situations.|
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