We're constantly getting reminders about how important good mental health really is. But it can be frustrating when mental health campaigns don't go much farther than "awareness." Many of us know know how important mental wellness is, and would love to make the choice to go to therapy, but simply don't have a few hundred bucks to set aside every week.
Therapy is hugely valuable, but usually also hugely expensive. And knowing it's important to seek help doesn't do all that much good if getting help is out of your grasp.
But even if you can't afford a therapist, you do have options.
Talk to your family doctor
This is usually a good first step. Not all family doctors will necessarily be able to help, but in some cases they can run diagnostic tests for certain conditions like anxiety or depression. In an ideal situation, your family doctor will be able to refer you to a psychiatrist whose services are covered, or suggest low-cost alternatives in your area.
Look into what's covered in your province
Mental health coverage varies by province, and it isn't always easy to tell in advance what's covered by your province's health plan. Again, your family doctor should be a good resource to point you towards what's subsidized for you.
In many provinces, including Ontario, B.C., and Alberta, psychiatrists — who can prescribe medication — are covered by provincial health care plans for people who have been referred by a family doctor. But in most areas, demand is high, so be aware that wait times can often be long. And the kind of care will differ quite a bit based on where you live and the severity of your illness, too. In some cases, therapy might be covered, even if individual work is not.
Look for a therapist with a sliding scale
Because the cost can be so prohibitive to so many people, some therapists offer their services on an income scale. If you Google "therapy" and "sliding scale" and your area, you can often access a list of people who charge less for people without a high income. ("Affordable" can sometimes be a good stand-in for "sliding scale," as well.)
Find a student therapist
In the same way student hairdressers are cheaper than full-blown professionals, many grad students in social work or psychology will offer discounted rates as a way to build their client lists. Look up "student therapist" and your area to see if this is an option where you live.
Don’t dismiss group therapy
If you live somewhere that offers free or inexpensive options, group therapy will often be your main option. It can sound awkward and intimidating, and way weirder than having a one-on-one. But once you get over the initial awkwardness, speaking to other people with issues similar to yours can actually be really helpful. And experts say that seeing people further along than you in their treatment often can often provide hope for recovery.
Research your condition
If you’ve been diagnosed with a specific condition, take advantage of the free literature you can access online or at your local library. “Some people do better than others with this self-directed learning, but knowledge is power,” says Dr. Bronwyn Singleton, a Toronto-based therapist.
“There is an abundance of therapeutic and/or self help literature, lectures, courses, workbooks and worksheets available either free online or for a fraction of the cost of even one individual session.”
Make some lifestyle changes
None of the following suggestions are cures, Singleton stresses, but there are some small changes you can make that can help while you’re waiting an appointment. She suggests doubling down on self-care: remember to get enough sleep, eat regular healthy meals, minimize recreational drug and alcohol intake, exercise. Writing or journalling, meditating, practicing mindfulness and opening up to a trusted friend can help too, she says.
Again, she’s very clear that none of these practices are alternatives to therapy or medication, but they’re all things that can provide some measure of help.
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Use an app
A number of developers have recognized the need for affordable mental health care, which is why there are an abundance of apps on the market right now for tracking mental health
Here are some of them, most of which are free:
- What’s Up (for anxiety, depression, anger, stress)
- Pacifica (for anxiety and depression)
- Moods (mood tracker)
- Mood Path (for depression)
- MoodKit (cognitive behavioural therapy)
- HealthyMinds (for depression and related stress)
- MindShift (for anxiety)
- Self-Help for Anxiety Management
- Bipolar Disorder Connect
- Happify (for overall negative thought patterns)
- Rise Up and Recover (for eating disorders)
- nOCD (for obsessive-compulsive disorder)
- PTSD Coach (for post-traumatic stress disorder)
- UCSF Prime (for schizophrenia)
- Talkspace ($66/week): OK, this one is on the pricier side, but it involves texting an actual therapist. There’s also a video coaching element available (It’s an American company, but does allow Canadian users).
There are a ton more out there, for a variety of conditions.
Get free phone coaching
The Canadian Mental Health Association runs a free internet phone coaching service for depression and anxiety called Bounce Back. It’s based on the tenets of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), and teaches skills to help deal with unhelpful thinking patterns. There’s also a Bounce Back video service with tips on building confidence, sleeping better, and managing mood.
Call a helpline
If you’re in an immediate crisis, call a helpline. Here are some options:
- Crisis Services Canada, at 1-833-456-4566 (or text 45645)
- Centre for Suicide Prevention, at 1-833-456-4566
- Canada Drug Rehab and Addiction Services Recovery, at 1-877-746-1963
- National Eating Disorder Information Centre, at 1-866-633-4220
- Hope for Wellness Help Line, for Indigenous people, at 1-855-242-3310 (there’s also an online chat at hopeforwellness.ca)