There are a number of different types of mental health service available. Emergency services provide immediate care for people experiencing a mental health crisis, while non-emergency services provide more long-term care for people with ongoing mental health issues.

Mental health services also differ according to how a person accesses treatment. Some people may opt for traditional therapy in a face-to-face setting, while others access mental health services online or through apps.

This article outlines some of the emergency and non-emergency mental health services that people can access either online or in person. It also provides some information on how to access free and low cost mental health services.

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Mental health services help people identify symptoms, establish healthful coping tools, track behavioral changes, and manage their emotions.

There are a wide range of online mental health services, or teletherapy services, available.

The sections below will outline some of these in more detail.

Mental health apps

Mental health apps offer resources that can help people:

  • identify mental health symptoms
  • practice good self-care
  • track behavioral changes over time

For example, the app MoodMission can help people with stress, anxiety, or low mood track their moods and assess the role that lifestyle changes play in their mental well-being.

Some apps connect users to licensed mental health providers for online therapy. For example, TalkSpace offers therapy on demand. Users can select therapists with specific treatment approaches or mental health specialisms.

Online therapy

Online therapy is talking therapy that a person receives either online or over the phone.

Some people seek therapy exclusively online. Others receive a combination of online and in-person therapy.

It is possible to connect with a therapist through a website or an app. However, some people may prefer to establish a relationship with the therapist in person before transitioning to online therapy.

Online therapy can be highly effective. According to one 2013 review, this model can work just as well as in-person care, and it may even improve access to mental health services.

Online support groups

People can also gain access to a wide range of online message boards and support groups.

For instance, the National Eating Disorders Association offer an online message board that people can use to share tips on self-management. As with most support groups, users can also share their personal experiences and gain assurance that they are not alone.

Some people find that online support groups are a useful complement to traditional forms of talking therapy.

However, online support groups are not a substitute for therapy with a licensed professional. A person with severe or life threatening mental health issues will likely need additional professional help.

Issue-specific services

Several online mental health services focus on common issues. Examples include:

There are many in-person mental health services available to people experiencing mental health issues. The appropriate service will depend on the person’s needs and preferences.

The list below will outline some options.

  • Psychotherapy: The aim of psychotherapy is to help people manage their emotions. This may involve:
    • exploring the origins of difficult emotions
    • working to establish healthful thought patterns
    • devising skills for coping with mental health challenges
  • Relationship counseling: This is a type of psychotherapy that aims to resolve conflicts between two or more people. Examples of relationship counseling include:
  • Group therapy: This is a type of psychotherapy in which people with similar mental health or behavioral issues receive therapy as a group. Individual therapy sessions may involve one or more therapists.
  • Support groups: Members of support groups work together to support one another with mental health issues. One of the most popular models is the 12-step program, which encourages users to work through 12 steps to overcome challenges. Examples of 12-step programs include:
  • Medication management: A doctor or psychiatrist may prescribe medication to help a person manage a mental health condition. A person may take the medication as a standalone treatment, or they may receive medication alongside psychotherapy.
  • Inpatient care: Inpatient care offers comprehensive long-term care to people with complex mental health needs, such as:
    • eating disorders
    • severe addiction
    • a history of self-harm
  • Hospitalization: Hospitalization may be necessary in the case of a mental health emergency, such as a suicide attempt. While staying in the hospital, a person may receive medication or psychotherapy to help manage their symptoms. Some hospitals offer partial hospitalization programs, during which a person spends most of their day at the hospital and goes home at night.

A person who is experiencing a mental health emergency will require some form of emergency counseling.

Some examples of a mental health emergency include:

  • suicidal thoughts or actions
  • self-harming behaviors, such as cutting
  • an eating disorder that causes significant weight loss or other health issues
  • an addiction that may endanger the person or someone else
  • delusions or behaviors that endanger others

Emergency care is available through counseling hotlines and in-person emergency care services.

Counseling hotlines

A counseling hotline representative can help a person through an immediate crisis and refer them to an appropriate mental health service.

However, hotlines do not offer comprehensive therapy or long-term treatment.

Some specialist emergency counseling hotlines include:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-8255
  • Rape, Sexual Assault, Abuse, and Incest National Network: (800) 656-4673
  • National Eating Disorders Center Helpline: (800) 931-2237
  • Veterans Crisis Line: (800) 273-8255
  • National Runaway Safeline: (800) 786-2929
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Helpline (connects to mental health services and offers crisis assistance): (800) 662-4357

In-person emergency care

A person who is at risk of harming themselves can visit the accident and emergency department of their nearest hospital. An emergency room visit can keep a person safe and help them gain access to an appropriate mental health service.

A mental health hospital or inpatient treatment center can offer more comprehensive care in an emergency.

Most mental health apps and online support groups are free to use.

A person may be able to access additional free or low cost mental healthcare through the following:

  • Providers-in-training: Most mental health providers must gain a certain number of treatment hours to become licensed. State laws vary, but in most cases, a provider-in-training will receive supervision from a licensed provider. A person can usually get free or low cost care from providers-in-training, often through a university or college.
  • College mental health services: Many college students and college employees can access free or low cost mental healthcare through their college’s counseling center.
  • Free and low cost clinics: Numerous clinics offer free and low cost services to people with a low income. The SAMHSA offer referrals to clinics around the country. A person can call 800-662-4357 for assistance.
  • The Veterans Association: The Veterans Association offer free and low cost mental health services to veterans. Find help here.
  • Insurance: The Affordable Care Act mandates that insurers cover mental healthcare at similar levels to physical healthcare. Depending on the plan a person uses, they may have access to low cost providers.

With the right support, mental health conditions and crises are highly treatable.

However, mental health diagnoses are often chronic. This means that a person’s symptoms may return when they stop treatment. In some cases, symptoms may even return during treatment.

A person who experiences a relapse of their mental health issues may need to change their existing treatment regimen. This may involve one or more of the following:

  • increasing the dosage of a particular medication, but only under the direction of a psychiatrist or primary care physician
  • changing to an alternative medication
  • starting psychotherapy or trying a different form of psychotherapy

Stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues are complex. Research suggests that the following factors may all play a role in the development of mental health issues:

  • biological factors, such as genes and brain chemistry
  • psychological factors, such as personality
  • social factors, such as level of parental support and peer pressure

It is not always possible to prevent a mental health issue from developing. However, the strategies below could help reduce the risk:

  • seeking support as soon as symptoms appear, rather than waiting for them to get worse
  • nurturing caring and supportive relationships with family and friends
  • practicing self-care, which includes:
    • exercising regularly
    • eating a healthful diet
    • getting plenty of sleep
    • making time for meaningful hobbies
  • avoiding drugs and limiting alcohol consumption
  • minimizing a child’s exposure to trauma wherever possible, such as by avoiding abusive relationships and abusive child-rearing practices

A person can gain access to mental health services both online and in person. Both types of service can provide emergency and non-emergency mental healthcare.

Most mental health apps and online support groups are free to use. People may also be able to gain access to free or low cost mental health services through providers-in-training or through free or low cost clinics. If not, a person’s insurance plan may pay some of the cost of mental healthcare.

Getting access to the right mental health service can change a person’s life. People who are unsure of where to ask for help can contact their primary care physician for a referral. A crisis hotline may also help direct a person toward local and affordable mental health services.