Protect Health Care

How To Get Mental Health Care Without Breaking the Bank

Angela Henderson  |  August 29, 2019

You’ve been diagnosed with depression? (Yeah, us too.) Here’s how you can get the help you need, no matter your budget. 

There I was: I had just gotten married, landed a cool full-time job, everything was going great and BAM! Depression hit me like the Real Housewives hit the Hamptons in the summer. I was a newbie, so I reached out to friends for for guidance. But then I was overloaded with well-meaning suggestions of what I should do, each recommendation sounding pricier than the last. 

Here’s a starter guide for finding help within any budget if you’re navigating a depression diagnosis.

Find Professional Help Within Your Budget

When I started asking for recommendations of therapists, I was inundated with recommendations for practitioners who didn’t take my insurance.  Can you say budget-busters? Every well-meaning referral left me feeling more and more overwhelmed. That’s why when someone recommended the Find-a-Therapist tool on Psychology.com. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to use.  You can search for therapists and psychiatrists based on location and see what they specialize in, what insurance they take, even what the cost of a session is without insurance. There’s even a way to get in touch with them through email if you aren’t feeling up to a phone call. It truly was a lifesaver.

Another route to a solution — since the last thing you want to do when you are seeking immediate help is call all of your friends’ therapists and see if they take your insurance — is to call your insurance company (the number on the back of your insurance card) and ask them to send you a list of nearby, in-network therapists. Pro-tip: My PCP was able to do a depression screening and prescribe me an antidepressant – all without seeking out a separate psychiatrist. Ask if this is an option for you if you are thinking about medication – it might at least save you an extra copay! 

But what if you have no insurance or coverage for mental health? There are plenty of free or low-cost options available. If you don’t feel comfortable with in-person treatment, you can talk online to a trained listener at 7 Cups of Tea for free. Each listener is educated in compassionate communication through a program designed by founder and CEO psychologist Glen Moriarty. If you are looking for licensed therapists but don’t want to leave the house and still want to pay less per session, another popular option is BetterHelp.com, where you can connect with licensed psychologists, therapists, social workers and board licensed professional counselors for as low as $40 per week. (A quick Google search will offer you similar online counseling services, in various price ranges to fit your budget.) 

And if that’s still too rich? Support groups are free and useful tools. The ADAA’s (Anxiety and Depression Association of America) Web site has a list of various support groups that you can search by topic or location. You can also Google local support groups for a more comprehensive list.

Understand that Socializing is Still Important – And Doesn’t Have to Be Costly

I’m typically a Netflix and chill (by myself) gal, even when I’m feeling 100%. But human connection is vital when coping with depression, even if it’s not on the top of your to-do list. 

“Socializing is very important. So when one becomes depressed, their tendency is to withdraw and to socialize less,” Dr. Gail Saltz, Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the New York Presbyterian Hospital and the author of The Power of Different: The Link Between Disorder and Genius says. “Socializing actually helps. And again, one doesn’t have to spend money to socialize. I’m talking about getting together with people and doing something, anything, or talking with other people.”

If you typically go out and meet friends at a busy or expensive restaurant, why not invite them over for a quiet night of games and conversation? Or even ask to come over for a low-key hang out or suggest a potluck? This way, you save money you can reallocate to your treatment plan, and you don’t have to feel feeling overwhelmed by a crowd.  FaceTime or a simple phone call to connect with friends or family is always a free option too, and this connection is so important while you are dealing with depression. 

Practice and Redefine Self Care

Self-care is so important, and arguably more so when you’re feeling depressed. When I think of self-care, I tend to think of expensive days at the spa or splurging at my favorite store. When I was at the height of my depression, I definitely had a “who cares” attitude toward spending, and dropped money on fleeting comforts. But while self-care is important while you’re feeling down, it doesn’t necessarily have to be in the form of a $250-an-hour anti-aging facial or new shoes. 

“If self-care involves hurting yourself financially, it is not self-care,” Sarah Newcomb, Director of Behavioral Science at Morningstar, Inc. and author of Loaded: Money, Psychology, and How to Get Ahead without Leaving Your Values Behind says. “I just feel like that’s a really important thing. Because self-care is gentleness with yourself. It’s being good to yourself. And it’s not just about feeling good in the moment at the expense of tomorrow.” Newcomb suggests self-care in the form of bubble baths, talks with friends, being outside in nature – all of these are extremely restorative and cost nothing. 

Additionally, if you’re where I was, my grooming habits weren’t priority number one, but I still had to look presentable for work. I swapped my usual routine of everyday showers, make-up, hair washes and blow-outs for face-wipes, BB cream and dry-shampoo most days (I linked my personal favorites). These were low-cost and kept me refreshed even when I didn’t have the energy for my whole beauty routine. 

Remember, self-care is a feeling, and doesn’t need to come with a hefty price tag.

Use. Your. Sick. Days.

Depression is a real medical condition. If you are lucky enough to have sick days, use them. Personally, I put off using my pile of accrued sick days to deal with my depression because I was afraid I might face a more “serious” illness and I would need those days later. However, left untreated, depression can be fatal. There’s nothing more serious than that. Don’t feel shame using those paid hours to seek treatment or taking that much needed “mental health” day. You earned them and you deserve to continue to make money while you seek the best treatment for yourself. 

“Depression itself carries a high mortality rate. Some diseases do not, but depression does, of 15% from suicide,” Saltz says, “And we also know that the earlier in the process one gets treatment, the easier it is to treat.” The bottom line: use your sick days and get the help you need. Getting paid while seeking treatment is definitely within your budget. 

Exercise Can Help and Can Be Cheap (Free!)

We all know the (annoying) research: Exercise can help ease the symptoms of depression and anxiety by releasing endorphins. However, when you’re in a depressive state, the idea of hitting the gym can seem near impossible. While it’s important to still find some form of movement to take care of your mental and physical health, it’s also important to consider the wisdom of paying for a gym/yoga/crossfit/etc. membership if you’re struggling to pay for care for your financial health. 

For me, I chose to cancel my $150-a-month hot yoga membership and instead opted for walks outside which were totally free. Not only was the time with nature soothing for my mind and good for my body, but my wallet thanked me as well. “Things like exercise really do make a difference,” Saltz advises, “But regular aerobic exercise does not have to be costly. It can be you jogging somewhere in your neighborhood. Just getting your heart rate up for 30 minutes a couple of times a week can make a big difference in terms of mood.”

To Sum It Up

There are plenty of budget-friendly ways to get help, and help yourself if you’re struggling with depression. Most importantly, let people close to you know how you’re feeling. I was pleasantly surprised how many people could relate and who supported me. Remember, you are not alone. 

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