Healthcare can be very expensive. For many people in the United States, the cost of insurance, including copayments, is too high. In addition, a person may be ineligible for benefits. Nevertheless, some free mental health support is often available.

According to estimates from 2017, nearly 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. have a diagnosed mental illness.

Many more people may have conditions that have not been diagnosed or are facing emotional or behavioral challenges that do not carry a diagnosis but may still benefit from mental health services.

For people without health insurance, the cost of mental health support can be especially daunting. Fortunately, some services are free or have reduced rates. We look into them below.

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Some mental health services that provide emotional support and helpful coping strategies are available free online.

If a person is a U.S. citizen and has a household income below a certain level, they may be eligible for Medicaid.

Medicaid is a form of public health insurance, and its coverage varies state by state. It may not cover all mental health services. A person can learn more about specific coverage on Medicaid’s website.

Also, the mental health issue in question can affect whether Medicaid covers the cost of treatment. In addition, a formal diagnosis may be necessary before Medicaid covers the cost of support.

Learn more about Medicaid, and how it compares with Medicare, here.

A range of therapy apps are available. They represent a branch of telemedicine and they allow a person to access mental health support, such as counseling, via webcam.

Online sessions with a psychiatrist, known as teletherapy or telepsychiatry, are usually more cost-effective than receiving the treatment in person.

Meanwhile, for people grappling with issues such as anxiety and high levels of stress, free mindfulness apps may provide some support. A 2019 study, for example, found that one such app reduced stress levels in college students.

Peer-to-peer support may significantly help with a range of mental health issues. The groups usually involve people with similar experiences and are self-run.

Groups may meet in person or online. 2017 research into the efficacy of online support groups found that they improved daily functioning and reduced feelings of isolation among people with depression.

These groups may also provide empowerment and a sense of belonging. However, they do not replace professional mental health services.

If a person is in distress, they may consider contacting a mental health hotline.

These are free, and many are accessible 24/7. Some offer the option of texting instead of calling. A person might use one if they are considering self-harm, for example.

A person can expect to receive emotional support from trained volunteers and professionals.

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours per day at 800-273-8255. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can call 800-799-4889.

Click here for more links and local resources.

Some universities have clinics that offer therapy and other mental health services from graduate students training to become psychologists, counselors, or social workers.

As the students are not yet fully qualified, the clinics may offer services at reduced rates or for free.

To learn whether a training clinic is nearby, a person can research and contact local universities.

Beyond university clinics, various organizations provide services such as therapy at reduced costs.

A person may meet with a trainee rather than a professional, but qualified staff often supervise those in training. It is therefore likely that people can receive a high level of support from these organizations.

They may provide various forms of psychotherapy and other treatments fos mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. These organizations may also help with medication management.

To find the nearest mental health services with reduced fees, a person can call or email the National Alliance on Mental Illness HelpLine.

Various self-help podcasts and videos are accessible online, usually for free. It is unlikely that these can replace professional care, but they may provide helpful coping strategies.

Older research, from 2007, suggests that self-help books may provide effective support for people facing certain concerns, such as high levels of stress. However, confirming the benefits of these types of tools requires further research.

Seeking mental health treatment can be daunting and stressful, particularly if a person has no health insurance.

However, some low-cost or free services are available. Among them are clinics featuring supervised trainees, 24-hour hotlines, support groups, online resources, teletherapy, and Medicaid.