How to Get Mental Health Help Without Insurance

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  • Do you know how to get mental health help without insurance? Millions of uninsured Americans may have trouble finding needed care. Learn about your options.
A couple sit on cushioned chairs while speaking with a therapist

Nearly 29 million U.S. citizens live without health insurance, a number that rose by over 2 million between 2017 and 2020. Millions more may have lost their employer-based coverage as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in many business closures. For individuals who have mental health issues, it can sometimes be hard for them to get the help they need without insurance coverage. Find out how to get mental health help without insurance.

Mental Health Services Cost

The cost of mental health services is not dramatically lower than the cost of other professional medical care, and many of the medications people use to manage their mental health come at a premium price that’s above the national average.

In addition to these higher than usual costs, mental health treatment is likely to last over the long term, which may drive costs higher still. Managing the expense without insurance can be extremely difficult, especially for those whose mental health issues reduce their ability to work. Fortunately, resources exist to help get mental health help without insurance.

If You Don’t Have Health Insurance

If you are living without health insurance, you know how worrying it can be to need medical or mental health care. Inpatient care in a hospital, nursing home or residential treatment center can cost over $1,000 a day for many conditions, with many additional costs for outpatient follow-up care, medications and transportation to and from necessary office visits.

Paying any substantial fraction of these costs out of pocket without help is beyond the reach of most Americans, and far outside of most uninsured people’s ability to pay.

Mental Health in the United States

Mental health conditions are not rare in the United States, nor are they confined to any one subset of the population. In 2017, nearly 20% of U.S. adults reported experiencing some symptoms of clinical mental illness. These numbers spiked in 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic. In that year, the number of adults who got a mental health evaluation for anxiety and depression rose by 93% over 2019 numbers, which were already high.

A distressingly large number of people with mental health issues have little to no insurance. Nationwide, nearly 11% of adults with some form of mental health disorder have no insurance at all. That amounts to over 5 million Americans who need to find some way to pay for expensive mental health treatment without insurance, sometimes without much cash on hand.

Living With Mental Health Conditions

Tens of millions of people have unmet mental health needs. While many conditions are relatively mild and manageable, many others can disrupt life and may be very serious. Depression, anxiety and schizophrenia are all leading factors in suicide, as are drug and alcohol addictive disorders.

Left untreated, many people with mental health issues fall behind in their work, home and family lives, personal care routines and even may become a threat to themselves or other people.

Untreated mental illness is a common issue among people admitted to hospital emergency rooms, involuntary substance abuse treatment and jail.

If you have the symptoms of a mental illness, or if you've been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, it's important for yourself and the people who care for you that you get the help you need to live a safe and productive life.

How to Get Mental Health Help Without Insurance

Fortunately, help for mental health without insurance does exist, though it can be hard to find in some areas of the country. If you think you might be having a mental health crisis, especially if you have thoughts about hurting yourself or other people, immediately call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Assistance (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). This resource is free, confidential and staffed by professional volunteers who can talk you through a crisis and connect you with resources nearby that can help.

If your need for mental health services is less dire than an emergency, you can try applying for Medicaid to get the help you need. It is often the case that people who lack health insurance simply can’t afford a policy on the private market. If your income and assets meet state maximum limits, you could be eligible for free or low-cost healthcare that includes the mental health services you need. You can apply for Medicaid through your local human services office online, by phone or in person with an appointment.

Resources for Mental Health Without Insurance

Many of the resources available for mental healthcare without insurance are local and take some searching to find. Be aware that, in a crisis, every licensed medical provider is required to provide emergency care, although the cost may be expensive.

Student health centers operate on every federally-funded college campus and offer no-cost referrals for mental health help to students. University hospitals also typically have teaching programs for students studying to become mental health providers that can provide free or steeply discounted evaluations and limited care to uninsured people.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness operates a toll free helpline for people who need to get mental health help with no insurance. You can reach NAMI online at Nami.org or by phone at 1-800-950-6264. You can also text “NAMI” to 741741 on a smartphone.