They say that nothing is more important than your mental health – but tell that to an empty bank account.
It’s easy to spout platitudes about getting the help you need, but everyone has a financial reality to deal with. Your mental health is unlikely to improve If you can’t pay bills or put food on the table, so the help you need and help you can afford aren’t always the same thing.
But no matter what you’re dealing with, there are plenty of low-cost options that can make a real difference. Here are some of the best ones to try out.
Download meditation apps
Meditation may be the least expensive – and most effective – way to boost your mental health. Meditating regularly has been proven to reduce stress, lower blood pressure and ease physical pain.
If you’ve never meditated before, start with Insight Timer. This free app includes more than 90,000 free guided meditations, or you can create a custom meditation timer with soothing sounds and interval bells.
Paid apps like Calm and Headspace also offer guided meditations. Headspace costs $12.99 a month or $48.99 for an annual membership, and Calm costs $69.99 a year.
Start by meditating for five minutes at a time and work your way up until you can sit between 10 and 20 minutes. Meditating, like budgeting, rewards those who adopt a regular practice.
Research shows that being outside in nature can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression – and you don’t need a national park or exotic locale to experience the benefits. Just find a local hiking trail or walk in a neighborhood park. Doing this a couple times a week can improve your mood, and all you have to pay is a little gas money.
Understand your insurance coverage
If you want traditional counseling, your insurance may cover a variety of mental health services including therapy, psychiatric visits, and prescriptions.
Some insurance companies will only cover a few sessions, while others won’t pay for any form of mental health counseling. Others may have a network of therapists you can visit for a discounted fee. Log onto your insurance policy account and search for in-network providers.
When you find an in-network provider, call them and verify that they take your insurance. Insurance directories are often outdated and may list providers who are no longer accepting that insurance.
Look through your employer resources
Some employers provide wellness programs that include visits with a licensed mental health worker. Most companies limit the number of free or discounted sessions, but it’s a good place to start if you’re new to therapy.
Your employer may also have discounts to apps like Calm and Headspace. Ask your HR department what the employer assistance program entails.
Find a low-cost clinic or graduate school
Many psychology graduate schools offer discounted sessions to the general public, ranging from $5 to $20. Sessions will be held with a graduate or Ph.D. student, under the supervision of a professional. The exact cost depends on the specific clinic and its policies
Do a Google search for local graduate psychology departments near you or visit the Association of Psychology Training Clinics website. Type in your city to find options available locally.
Some clinics may have a waiting list if there aren’t enough student counselors. Add your name to the list and they’ll notify you when a therapist becomes available.
Use an HSA or FSA
You can use either a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) or a Health Savings Account (HSA) to pay for mental health expenses like therapy, prescription medications, and psychiatric visits. These accounts will lower your tax obligation, allowing you to save money on your total tax bill.
An FSA is provided through your employer, and some companies even contribute funds to their employees’ FSAs. FSA funds expire at the end of the year, so you should use them up before then. The annual contribution limit for FSAs is $2,750 for individuals.
If you have a high-deductible health plan (HDHP), you can open an HSA at a local or online bank. Unlike FSAs, the money in an HSA never expires and can be rolled over year-to-year. Individuals can contribute up to $3,600 a year in an HSA or up to $7,200 for couples.
Look at group therapy options
While one-on-one therapy is more popular, it can also be more expensive. Opting for group therapy can save you up to 50% while still providing access to a qualified professional.
You can even search for group therapy sessions that focus on a specific issue, like OCD or eating disorders. While you won’t get the same level of attention in group therapy, these sessions usually meet more frequently.
Find sliding-scale therapists
Some therapists provide services on a sliding scale, which means the cost per session depends on your income. The less you earn, the less you’ll pay.
If a therapist doesn’t mention sliding scale fees on their website, contact them personally and ask. You never know what kind of discount they may offer.
The Open Path Collective is an online group of therapists who provide low-cost services, usually between $30 and $60 per session. Open Path charges a one-time, $59 membership fee that stays the same no matter how many sessions you have or how many different therapists you use.
You don’t have to show your pay stub or tax return to qualify for Open Path’s services, but they ask that you only use them if you can’t afford full-price therapy.
Some local community health centers also have affordable therapy sessions. If you’re having trouble finding one online, call your primary care doctor and ask for some recommendations.
Use coupons for medications
If you take medication for your mental health, compare costs at different pharmacies before picking up the prescription. Use sites like GoodRX to find coupons and contact the drug manufacturer if you can’t find any deals. Sometimes, they’ll send you a free or discounted supply.