How to Get Free or Low-Cost Depression Treatment

How to afford therapy when you don’t have insurance

How to Get Free or Low-Cost Depression Treatment

Use these resources to find free or low-cost mental health treatment

Almost 20% of adults in the United States seek treatment for mental health issues, with 9.5% receiving some counseling or psychotherapy, according to a recent research.

But for many people, access and cost of therapy are genuine obstacles to treatment, found a 2020 study. Neither of these things should be a barrier to getting help.

In this article, we outline counseling costs and strategies to help you find low-cost or free therapy.

How much does therapy cost?

“Typically, the average cost of therapy [without insurance] is somewhere between $100 and $250 [per session],” according to Ashley McGirt, MSW, therapist, author, and the founder of WA Therapy Fund Foundation. 

Online therapy programs are generally less expensive than in-person therapy, depending on what you need and want. And the cost can vary by region. For example, therapy in New York would generally be more expensive than in Idaho.

The mental health professional’s education, training, or specialization could also influence therapist costs—and so does the length of the session. Most sessions are 45-50 minutes; some can be 30 minutes long while others are 90 minutes or longer, according to Roseann Campanna-Hodge, Ed.D.

, psychologist and founder of The Global Institute of Children’s Mental Health.

Does insurance cover therapy?

If you have a health insurance plan, your insurer might help pay for therapy sessions. Most plans offered through health insurance exchanges through the Affordable Care Act are required to provide mental health coverage.

Private insurance companies not under the umbrella of the ACA may offer—but aren’t necessarily required to—mental health benefits.

If your plan does, the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (also known as the mental health parity law) requires that mental health and addiction coverage is comparable to their physical health coverage, according to the American Psychological Association.

For example, if you pay a $20 copay for most physical health visits, your copay can’t be higher for mental health services. The law also prevents insurance companies from placing a firm limit on the number of visits per year. However, they can request a review after a certain number of visits to determine if the care is still needed, or they may require prior authorization.

It’s important to note that the reimbursement rates insurance companies pay therapists is quite low, which is held over from the time before mental health parity laws. Un so many other branches of medicine, a disproportionate number of mental health professionals simply do not accept insurance. 

How much you will pay for mental health care depends on your plan and your mental health provider. Some factors that can affect health insurance payments, according to the American Psychological Association, include:

  • Whether your therapist is an in-network provider: Many insurance companies pay a certain amount for providers in their network. For providers outside the network, the amount they pay the provider is less.
  • You have a deductible: If you have a deductible on your plan, you might need to meet it before receiving benefits. Contact your insurance company to determine how much your deductible is, and what medical services go toward it. Once you meet the deductible, the insurance company pays according to your plan benefits.
  • Your therapist does not work with your insurance company: Not all providers accept all insurance plans. As explained above, many do not.

To find a therapist in network, you can request a list of in-network providers from your insurance company. You can often find whether a provider takes insurance and what plans they accept on 

Once you’ve found a therapist you’d to try, make sure to call and ask about their policies regarding insurance. You will want to find out:

  • Does the provider accept your insurance? If so, will they bill the insurance company directly with you paying the copayment, or do you need to submit their bill for reimbursement?
  • If they do not accept insurance, what are their payment policies? Is payment expected at the time of service, or are you billed for the visits? You could also inquire about sliding scale rates your income.

Some therapists accept only cash or credit card payments and prefer not to accept insurance at all. One reason is the low reimbursement rates. When a therapist decides to take insurance, they must accept the rates set by the insurance companies.

“Another reason is the restrictions insurance companies place on care,” explains McGirt. “Health insurance companies require therapists to have a legitimate diagnosis to provide you with reimbursable treatment.

” That can be a problem because not every reason for seeing a therapist is considered a mental illness.

How to find affordable therapy without insurance

If you don’t have insurance for mental health treatment, consider online therapy. “Online therapy has changed because of COVID-19,” says Brittany A. Johnson, LMHC.

“Before that, many people couldn’t access therapy because of the need to take time off work and process their emotions. Now, people can access therapy during their lunch hour. Numerous online therapy programs can be affordable, such as Talkspace and BetterHelp.

Therapists who have traditionally offered only in-person therapy are now offering online sessions at a lower cost.”

Other affordable options include:

Employee assistance programs

Some employers offer counseling and assistance for problems that interfere with their employee’s well-being. These include therapy sessions for emotional issues, relationships, or substance abuse issues.

These are often provided at no cost to the employee and can be in-person, online, or by phone. There is usually a set number of sessions.

Talk to your human resources department to find out if your company offers these types of therapy programs.

RELATED: Do you need a mental wellness day?

Local universities and colleges

If you attend a college or university, check with the health center to find out what counseling services they offer. If you don’t attend but have universities and colleges in your area, call to see if they have a psychology department. They might provide a reduced rate or a sliding scale therapy with clinician-supervised students training to become psychologists or therapists.

Local therapists

Contact therapists in private practice in your area and ask if they work with a sliding scale fee program income—the less you make, the less you pay. If they don’t have a sliding scale program, ask if they work with clinician-supervised interns that provide counseling for discounted rates. Therapy practices, rather than individuals, are more ly to have interns.

Clinical trials

When you participate in a clinical trial, your care is usually free. The National Institute of Mental Health completes research studies on a variety of mental health conditions. Check on for mental health-related trials.

Locate a federally qualified health center

These health centers usually offer mental health care and work on a sliding payment scale. You can search the HRSA Data Warehouse to find a health center in your area.

Research health insurance options

There are several options for people and those without insurance coverage. When looking for a plan, make sure they include mental health treatment.

  • Medicaid is health care coverage offered by the federal government and your state government. You can apply for Medicaid through your state or fill out an application through the Health Insurance Marketplace.
  • Medicare is a health insurance plan run by the federal government for people who are over the age of 65 or disabled. To apply for Medicare, visit Social Security’s website.
  • Check to see if you qualify for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, which bases premiums on income. You can find plans and apply for coverage at the Health Insurance Marketplace.

Community mental health centers

Look for community mental health centers in your area. They usually offer emergency mental health support, therapy, and psychiatric care—and some even fill prescriptions on-site.

Typically, you will have an initial intake interview to determine the level of care and services you need.

You will also be asked about your income to determine if you are eligible for free or discounted treatment.

Health-centered non-profits sometimes offer care with therapists or psychologists who volunteer their time. Search for “health non-profits” along with the name of your town or city.

Free mental health services

In order to find free mental health services in your area, you can start by calling 211. Specialists can connect you with local or regional resources. You can also check the following resources for free mental health care.

  • Drop-in centers: Mental health drop-in centers are usually run by people living with mental health issues. They are considered peer-to-peer assistance and offer support, advocacy, self-empowerment, socialization programs, and a safe haven. Your county department of health should know the location of drop-in centers.
  • Support groups: Support groups can be in-person or online. In-person groups might meet at a church, school, or community health center. Mental Health America provides resources for locating support groups for many different mental health topics. NAMI also offers resourcing for mental health support groups.
  • Hotlines: Hotlines are numbers you call in an emergency, such as the Suicide Prevention Hotline. You can find a list of numbers on the Hotline Directory. Some useful hotlines include:
    • Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-SUICIDE
    • Eating Disorders Center: 1-888-236-1188


    Finding Low-Cost Mental Health Care

    How to Get Free or Low-Cost Depression Treatment

    What should you do if you're under a lot of stress or dealing with a mental health issue and you’re worried about paying 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. Some health insurance companies don't fully cover mental health services, and there may still be some money that needs to be paid out-of-pocket, copays and deductibles.

    Still, it is possible to find affordable — sometimes even free — mental health care or support.

    How Can I Get 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 you need more help,  the school counselor may be able to point you in the right direction. Some possibilities to explore include:

    • Local mental health centers and clinics. These groups are funded by federal and state governments so they charge less than you might pay a private therapist. Search online for «mental health services» and the name of the county or city where you live. Or, go to the website for the National Association of Free & Charitable Clinics. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Health Resources and Services Administration also provides a list of federally funded clinics by state. One thing to keep in mind: Not every mental health clinic will fit your needs. For example, a clinic might specialize in veterans or kids with developmental disabilities. If you’re not sure who a clinic serves, it's still worth a call. Even if a clinic can't help you, the people who work there might recommend someone who can.
    • Hospitals. Call your local hospitals and ask what kinds of mental health services they offer — and at what price. Teaching hospitals, where doctors are trained, often provide low- or no-cost services.
    • Colleges and universities. If a college in your area offers graduate degrees in psychology or social work, the students might run free or low-cost clinics as part of their training.
    • On-campus health services. If you're in college or about to start, find out what kind of counseling and therapy your school offers and at what cost. Ask if they offer financial assistance for students.
    • Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs). These free programs provide professional therapists to evaluate people for mental health conditions and offer short-term counseling. Not everyone has access to this benefit: EAPs are run through workplaces, so you (or your parents) need to work for an employer that offers this type of program.
    • Private therapists. Ask trusted friends and adults for recommendations, then call to see if they offer a «sliding fee scale» (this means they charge how much you can afford to pay). Some psychologists even offer certain services for free, if necessary. To find a therapist in your area, check the websites of your state's mental health association or the American Psychological Association (APA). To qualify for low-cost services, you may need to prove financial need. If you still live at home, that could mean getting parents or guardians involved in filling out paperwork. But your therapist will keep everything confidential.

    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.

    How Can I Get Financial Help for Mental Health Care?

    Programs Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) 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 they think you may harm yourself or another person.

    How Can I Get Help in a Crisis?

    If you're having thoughts of suicide, feel very hopeless or depressed, or feel you might harm yourself or others in any way, call a suicide or crisis hotline. These offer free help right away.

    You can turn to these resources for 24/7 help:

    • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 or text CONNECT to 741741. You also can contact them through their website.


    Low-Cost Treatment

    How to Get Free or Low-Cost Depression Treatment

    Anxiety disorders are treatable, yet only one-third of those diagnosed receive treatment. Often the cost of cognitive-behavioral therapy and prescription drugs deters people from getting the help they need.

    The following is a list of resources that offer assistance in paying for treatment. Family physicians also may have information about low-cost treatment resources.


    While effective for treating anxiety disorders, cognitive-behavioral therapy, usually known as CBT, can be expensive, sometimes costing $100 or more per hour. Some therapists or clinics offer therapy on a sliding scale, which means that charges fluctuate income. Ask about a sliding scale or other payment options when you call or visit for a consultation. Find a Therapist near you.

    Federally funded health centers can also be a good resource for those without health insurance or with a limited budget. You pay what you can afford, your income. Many of these centers include mental health services. Find a federally funded health center near you.

    Some colleges and universities offer low-cost therapy for anxiety disorders and other mental health problems.

    Call the psychology, psychiatry, or behavioral health department and inquire about sessions with graduate students, who are supervised and can provide services at a lower cost as they gain counseling experience.

    Keep in mind that these sessions aren’t always open to the public; some departments may limit them to students of that college or university.

    Prescription Drugs

    Medication can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, but for people without health insurance, prescription drugs can be too expensive. If you are considering medication, however, it must be prescribed and monitored by your physician. Do not adjust the dosage or frequency or stop taking it abruptly, even if cost is a factor, without first discussing it with your doctor.

    Most pharmaceutical companies offer patient-assistance programs for uninsured patients. These programs provide prescribed medication at little to no cost. Eligibility varies; see the Partnership for Prescription Assistance website for more information, or contact companies directly about their patient assistance programs.

    Here are some pharmaceutical companies that offer patient assistance programs:






    Generic drugs are a cheaper alternative to brand-name medications. Make sure your doctor writes your prescription in a way that allows for the generic version of the medication. Some medications don’t yet have a generic version on the market.

    This is because when new drugs are developed, they’re put under patent protection. Until that patent expires, the pharmaceutical company is the only one who can sell that drug. Ask if your doctor has any samples to give you.

    Pharmaceutical companies often give samples of their new drugs to doctors and clinics.

    Buying medication online can be another cost-effective way to treat your anxiety disorder, but be cautious of the hundreds of scams and illegal “pharmacies” online.

    If you do order medication online, only use a licensed pharmacy with a licensed pharmacist on call to answer your questions. It’s illegal for a website to sell any medication without requiring a prescription.

    Also, be sure to read the privacy information on the pharmacy’s website. For more information, read the FDA’s consumer safety guide on buying prescription drugs online.

    NeedyMeds is a 501(c)(3) national non-profit information resource dedicated to helping people locate assistance programs to help them afford their medications and other healthcare costs.

     ADAA is partnering with NeedyMeds to provide information resource pages about various anxiety and depression related disorders.

    NeedyMeds has provided this 2019 informational sheet with the most popular healthcare cost savings program.

    Medicaid and Clinical Trial Information

    If you are a U.S. citizen with low income, you may be eligible for Medicaid. Medicaid coverage includes mental health treatment costs; eligibility and services provided vary by state. If you are 65 years or older, you may be eligible for Medicare, which includes hospital and medical insurance and prescription drug coverage. Get more information about both of these government programs.

    Before medications are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or before certain therapy methods are widely accepted as effective, they are tested on volunteers in a clinical trial.

    You can participate in a clinical trial, also called a research study, but be aware that there are risks. Not all experimental treatments will be effective, and you may experience unpleasant or serious side effects. Eligibility, time commitment, and reimbursement vary.

    Search for a clinical trial on the ADAA website, or search the National Institutes of Health database.

    ADAA Resources: 

    • 7 Ways to Seek Therapy Without Breaking the Bank

    Other Resources:

    07/23/2020 Free Mental Health Services That Offer Affordable and Accessible Support, (ADAA's free resources are highlighted)

    Learn more about how you choose and find a therapist nearby in your area.


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