Mental health help for teens

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What should you do if you’re a teen under a lot of stress, or
dealing with a mental health issue, and you don’t have the money
for treatment? You’re not alone if you’re concerned about paying
for mental health care.
What should you do if you’re a teen under a lot of stress, or dealing with a mental health issue, and you don’t have the money for treatment?

You’re not alone if you’re concerned about paying for mental health care. Lots of people need help and worry they can’t afford it. Even if you have insurance, it can be challenging. Some insurance companies don’t cover many – or, in some cases, any – mental health services, and they often have expensive copays and deductibles.

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

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 area 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.

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 Clinics ( The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration site 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. Some might not work with people your age. For example, a clinic might specialize in veterans or kids with developmental disabilities. It’s still worth a call, though. 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 who they’d recommend, then call to see if they offer a “sliding fee scale” (this means they charge based on how much you can afford to pay). Some psychologists even offer certain services for free, if necessary. You can find a therapist in your area by going to the website for your state’s psychological association or to the site for 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.

Also, if you’re in college or under age 26, you may be covered under a parent’s health insurance policy. It’s worth a call to your parent’s insurance company to find out.

Financial Help

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 by private insurance. 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.

Getting Help in a Crisis

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, or visit a hospital or crisis center. These offer free help right away.

– Suicide hotlines. Toll-free confidential lines like 1-800-SUICIDE or 1-800-999-9999 are staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by trained professionals who can help you without ever knowing your name or seeing your face. They often can give you a referral to a mental health professional you can follow up with in your area.

– Crisis hotlines. These help survivors of rape, violence and other traumas. Some also may provide short-term counseling. To find one, do an online search for your state and “crisis hotline.”

– Emergency rooms. Emergency rooms are required to evaluate and care for people who have emotional emergencies as well as physical ones. If you think you might hurt yourself or someone else, you also can call 911.

– Local crisis centers. Some states have walk-in crisis centers for people coping with mental health problems, abuse or sexual assault. They’re a bit like ERs for people who are having an emotional crisis. Each county and state does things differently, though, and few might not have crisis centers. To see if there’s a crisis center near you, search online for your city, county or state and terms like “crisis center” or “psychiatric emergency services.”

If you need help finding any kind of services, contact your state’s mental health association or psychological association.

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