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Financial Assistance for Mental Health Treatment

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*If you’re currently experiencing a mental health crisis or if you’re considering harming yourself or others, please get help immediately. You can call the free and confidential National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or visit your closest emergency room for immediate intervention.

Free and Affordable Treatment Options

It’s a stunning statistic: 54.7% of American adults with mental illness don’t get the help they need. Often, this is because of the cost of mental health care, the employment struggles many with mental health issues face, or both.

The good news is that there are programs and options for both getting affordable care and offsetting other financial hardships that may accompany mental health issues. With improved understanding of the causes and symptoms of mental health has come improved financial and government assistance for mental health sufferers.

Health Insurance

Health insurance plans, whether private or government, are generally required to provide mental health coverage. If you’re employed, your employer may offer insurance, and some employers also pay toward the monthly premium as part of their benefits package.

Most of these plans do not exclude coverage for pre-existing conditions, but it’s important to check your employer-offered plan to be sure.

Insurance through the federal government is available through Medicare, Medicaid, or an insurance plan offered through the Affordable Care Act Marketplace (also known as “ObamaCare”). Government insurance and ACA healthcare plans are expressly prohibited from denying coverage or charging more to cover a pre-existing condition, including mental health issues or substance abuse.

Medicare and Medicaid for Mental Health

Medicaid and Medicare are federally funded insurance programs and qualifying is based on income, age, and disability status. To apply for either of these programs or for help starting the Social Security Disability application, contact your local Social Services agency.

Free Clinics and Health Services

There are some free and low-cost options you can explore.

Many Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) provide mental health services on a sliding-fee scale based on ability to pay. These facilities must meet strict requirements to be eligible for government funding.

Some private therapists will make income-based arrangements with patients. Reaching out to local nonprofits can be helpful. They provide information about local resources that might be open to you, and some have even recruited groups of professionals like therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists who donate time to see patients as a pro-bono service.

Other options include VA Medical Centers and Student Health or Student Counseling Centers at colleges. Even if you aren’t a student, a nearby university or a training hospital may provide help at a low cost.

Psychology (Ph.D.) and Psychiatry (M.D.) candidates are required to perform a certain number of direct patient service hours during their final internships and residencies. The candidates are supervised by a clinically licensed teaching professional, and you can expect a high quality of care.

Assistance for Working Individuals

Check with the mental health agency where you receive support services and/or your local employment office for information and support for seeking employment with a disability.

Some employers offer guaranteed interviews for people with a disability who meet the minimum role requirements. Your state may provide help for people with disabilities to find employment through vocational rehabilitation services or supported employment. The supported employment program partners with employers to help people with serious mental illness get jobs and be successful in them.

Whether you’re interviewing or already employed, the Equality Act protects you from unfair treatment once you tell your employer about your disability. It is aimed at both preventing discrimination in the hiring process and ensuring that reasonable accommodations are made for applicants and employees with a disability.

Except in very rare cases (like applying for a teaching position), potential employers are not allowed to ask whether you have a medical or mental health issue. Once you’ve been hired, employers are responsible for removing any barriers that prevent you from being able to perform your work successfully because of your disability. Being familiar with what the law requires will help protect you in the workplace.

Difficulty Maintaining Consistent Employment

Sometimes finding and keeping a job with a mental illness can be a challenge. Almost 60% of people receiving mental health services in the U.S. say they want to work, but the national unemployment rate for the same group approaches 90%.

Applying for disability benefits can be a good option even if you’re able to work, but it’s probably a necessity if mental illness is preventing or severely limiting you from finding or keeping a job.

Applying for Disability

If you have questions about whether your mental illness is covered and whether you could be entitled to Social Security Disability benefits, you can visit the Social Security Administration website ( or contact your local Social Services agency for more information and to begin the application process.

The SSA has its own definition of what a disability is and diagnostic criteria to determine whether an individual qualifies. You’ll need to provide medical records and documentation from your doctors, and you’ll interview with a caseworker to answer questions about how your disability affects your day-to-day life. You’ll also be required to provide information about your income and assets. It’s possible that requests for documentation and interviews with caseworkers could be repeated through several stages of the SSA review.

Social Security and Social Security Disability for Mental Health

The application process doesn’t just determine whether you qualify for disability benefits, but also what type of disability benefits you qualify for.

SSDI is paid when a contribution threshold through past work is met. The SSDI benefits are paid from the Social Security Trust Fund on a monthly basis, and the amount you receive is determined by your total previous contributions.

SSI, however, is strictly need-based, and eligibility is determined by proof of financial hardship. SSI is for individuals who have never worked or who do not meet the minimum work contributions. This benefit, also paid monthly, is a flat rate and amount.

Qualifying for disability benefits also qualifies you for government health insurance – Medicare for SSDI and Medicaid for SSI.

It is possible that you could qualify for both SSDI and SSI and receive benefits from both.


If you’ve recently lost your job or changed employment, COBRA allows you to keep your former employer’s health insurance for up to 18 months as long as the premium continues to be paid. If you or a dependent have a disability, COBRA coverage can be extended for 36 total months of coverage. Because employer group policies are often more expensive than private policies, the cost of maintaining coverage through COBRA can be prohibitive. Still, it provides a way to prevent coverage lapses if/when your employment situation changes.

Mental Illness Housing Options

If you’re experiencing financial hardship because of (or along with) your mental illness it’s possible that finding affordable housing. or paying for housing you have, is difficult. Certain types of mental illness can make living alone difficult, which means a different kind of housing could be necessary.

If you’re experiencing a housing emergency, The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development website has resources and information about homelessness prevention, temporary housing, and where you can get help in your state. Your local United Way and other similar charity organizations may also be able to help. You can look online or call 211 anywhere in the U.S. to get a list of resources near you.

If your mental illness prevents you from being able to live independently, there are several options that may be covered or partially covered by health insurance:

  1. Supervised group housing is similar to assisted living facilities. Residents have their own rooms, but common spaces are shared, and support staff provide 24-hour assistance with things like medication, transportation, and treatment management.
  2. Partially supervised group housing is for residents who can live semi-independently and be left alone for several hours at a time. Residents still get help with cooking, cleaning, medication, and other needs.
  3. Supportive housing provides limited assistance akin to in-home nursing for medical issues.

Consult your policy or contact your policyholder to learn more about your managed care coverage including possible residential support.

For those who can remain independent, renting a home and working with a caseworker to ensure that your ongoing care is maintained can be a good solution, if it’s affordable to do so. If it’s not affordable because of financial hardship, you may qualify for federal programs like Section 8, which helps pay a portion of rent in any place that meets the federal requirements, or Section 811, which does the same but is specifically for people with disabilities.

Public housing is another federal program offering government-owned accommodations to very low-income households and to people with disabilities. More information, including how to apply, can be found at the U.S. Housing and Urban Development website.

If you don’t already have a monthly budget, now is the time to make one, especially if you’re also navigating the disability benefits application or if maintaining employment is (or may become) difficult. When considering your budget, housing should be a maximum of 35% of your income.

Getting Help

It’s understandable if living with mental illness, managing costs of living and care, navigating employment, and going through the process of applying for Social Security Disability feels overwhelming. Gather a support system to help as you go through the steps to secure ongoing treatment with the coverage and financial assistance you need and remember to take immediate steps if you find yourself in crisis.

It is also important to maintain financial stability. Poor financial health can lead to anxiety and stress that severely affects your mental health. Help is available for financial concerns, such as debt.

Learn More: Debt and Mental Health

Consider nonprofit credit counseling as a step toward getting your finances in order. If mental health issues have affected your employment status and ability to pay your bills, mortgage counseling can be an important resource.

A nonprofit credit counseling agency must work for your best interests without charging you a fee. Counselors are trained to find the best solutions for any financial situation. Resolving financial challenges will take some of the problems off your list of worries.

About The Author

Max Fay

Max Fay has been writing about personal finance for for the past five years. His expertise is in student loans, credit cards and mortgages. Max inherited a genetic predisposition to being tight with his money and free with financial advice. He was published in every major newspaper in Florida while working his way through Florida State University. He can be reached at [email protected].


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