Guest Post: 14 Free and Low-Cost Mental Health Resources

[Hello everyone, Captain Awkward here. I saw the list of resources for people that can’t access therapy right now that Tiffany compiled on Twitter and hired her to write it up for us as a companion to the post on how to access low-cost counseling in the US and Canada.  If you have additional resources that have helped you please feel free to share them in comments. -CA]

2017 has been quite a year to say the least. But in the midst of all the global upheaval, I’ve also noticed a trend of more people willing to talk about mental illness, and also seek out solutions for mental health care. I’ve seen a lot of conversations surrounding this topic on social media. As someone who has dealt with clinical depression for most of her life, it makes me glad to see the stigma of mental illness falling away as more people open up about their struggles and needs. However, it seems the supply for low-cost, accessible mental health services is yet to catch up with the demand, particularly in the United States. That’s why I’ve compiled a list of resources (mostly available online) for those who have trouble accessing therapy at the moment. While there’s no substitute for actually talking one-on-one with a professional about your problems, hopefully these resources will get you on the right track to mental health.

1. Recovery International: This organization was founded in the 1930s by a psychiatrist who was ahead of his time, Dr. Abraham Low. Recovery International is a program based on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that teaches participants a way of overcoming limits imposed by depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders. The result is the ability to lead a more functional, peaceful life. Recovery International holds in-person meetings all over the United States (and some in Europe). They also hold online chat and video meetings. Each meeting is lead by a volunteer well versed in the Recovery International method.

Cost: Each meeting is donation based, so you can give what you can. You also might want to purchase one of Dr. Low’s books at some point, which are reasonably priced.

2. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: Also known as ACT, this psychotherapy technique focuses on accepting and re-framing the things in your life that cause you suffering instead of trying to avoid them. ACT teaches you to embrace pain as a normal part of the human condition, therefore freeing yourself from the trap of always trying to avoid it. A great book to pick up on ACT is “Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life: The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy” by Steven Hayes and Spencer Xavier Smith. It’s an award-winning book that comes very highly recommended.

Cost: See current price on Amazon.

3. Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance: The DBS Alliance was founded as a safe place for those with depression and bipolar disorders to share their experiences and receive support. DBSA offers online support group meetings where you’ll find peers that “assist, encourage, and enable each other in helping themselves.” There are also support meetings for friends and family of people with mood disorders, and one specifically for young adults.

Cost: Donation based, so give what you can if you find the meetings helpful.

4.  7 Cups of Tea: An on-demand emotional health and well-being service available online and via downloadable app. Their main offering is anonymously connecting people one-on-one with trained “listeners” to talk about whatever is on their mind. They also have moderated chatrooms and message boards. You can also follow a 7 Cups path, which consists of small, actionable steps you can take each day to improve your mental well-being.

Cost: Free to join, free to chat with listeners and participate in discussions. They also have paid services available, such as chatting with a licensed therapist and customizing your 7 Cups path.

5. Pacifica: This app gives users daily tools for managing stress, anxiety and depression. They offer self-help paths designed by psychologists that give you actionable steps to take each day. You can also track your mood throughout the day, track activities like sleep and exercise, set daily challenges, and use the guided relaxation techniques. Pacifica also offer a peer-to-peer support community where you can connect with like-minded users.

Cost: Free to download and use most services. Upgraded services start at $5.99 USD per month.

6. Sip and Om Podcast: Plenty has been said about the benefits of meditation for people who suffer from mental and mood disorders. It can help to tame a racing mind, lower stress levels, and help you sleep better at night, among other things. If you want to dive into meditation, the Sip and Om podcast hosted by Mary Meckley is a great introduction. Each week she has a different meditation theme, such as stress, depression, and self esteem. She also features different herbal teas that you can drink for health.

Cost: 2 week free trial, cheapest plan is $14.99/month after that. 

7. Headspace: If you prefer an app over a podcast to meditate, then Headspace is a great way to dive in. The ten-part introduction series is perfect for beginners or those returning to meditation. If you like it, they have an extensive library of guided meditations for you to subscribe to.

Cost: Free to download, free introduction series. Access to full meditation library starts at $12.99 USD per month.

8. Samaritans: A secular non-profit organization based in the United Kingdom that offers users a way to correspond with trained counselors about whatever troubles them. You can email or call Samaritans around the clock, no matter where you are in the world. They’re committed to offering a listening ear and never being pushy or judgmental. Every conversation is confidential.

Cost: Free.

9. Sleep With Me Podcast: Getting to sleep at night is a big issue when your mind is always racing. That’s why I love the Sleep With Me Podcast. Each episode features the host Scooter telling a boring bedtime story meant to take your mind off of whatever might be troubling you. The team at this podcast is really dedicated to helping listeners get a good night’s rest. If you like it, there’s an archive full of over 500 episodes to choose from.

Cost: Free

10. Therapy For Black Girls Podcast: There’s a strong stigma around mental health in the black American community, and black women and girls in particular really suffer because of it. Hosted by the very likeable Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, Therapy for Black Girls is just like hanging out with a good friend and discussing mental health in a down-to-earth way. Whether dealing with mama issues or getting through a breakup, Dr. Joy’s comforting counsel is really a breath of fresh air.

Cost: Free

11. Mood Gym: This online interactive self-help program provides cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) training to help its users prevent and manage symptoms of depression and anxiety. They have over 1 million users all over the world, and it’s completely anonymous and confidential. Each lesson is easy to digest. The exercises and quizzes give you practical ways to be more aware of your thoughts and feelings so that you can improve on your mental health day by day.

Cost: $39 AUD for 12 months (about $30 USD)

12. RAINN Sexual Abuse Hotline: RAINN is America’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. If you’ve suffered from sexual abuse, whether recently or not, you can contact them around the clock by phone or chat. Volunteers are trained to listen in a nonjudgmental way and also to help you find more resources if needed. RAINN also leads sexual assault prevention programs and works to improve public policy on sexual violence. You can find more information on their website.

Cost: Free.

13. Scarleteen: Sex and relationships can be difficult territory for young people to navigate. That’s why Scarleteen offers online chat and SMS services for teens and young adults who need guidance on any and everything related to sex and relationships. They also have messageboards and an advice column where you can submit your questions. While they can’t help directly with issues related to anxiety, depression, or other mood disorders, they can offer guidance on this very important part of everyone’s life.

Cost: Free.

14. Kooth: This is an online service designed for UK youth under the age of 18. On Kooth you can chat with an online counselor, read articles written by young people, interact with an online community, and even keep an online journal. Kooth has been recommended by school counselors and others who work on young people’s behalf.

Cost: Free.

Remember that not all of these options may work for you, but if you find one or two that do work, then you’ll be much better off. Just check them out one at a time to avoid feeling overwhelmed. I wish you all the best in your journey towards greater mental well-being and a more fulfilling life.

Tiffany is a freelance writer and online marketing consultant from Southern California. She has a passion for using her writing to help both people and great businesses grow. If you’re in need of an experienced freelance writer, you can see her ghostblogging portfolio here.

62 thoughts on “Guest Post: 14 Free and Low-Cost Mental Health Resources

  1. I also want to take the opportunity to plug Crisis Text Line. I’m a crisis counselor and its a great service that is available 24/7 via 741741 and is non-issue specific, like the hotlines are. It’s not long term mental health care, but it is an excellent resource when someone is in crisis.

    1. Thanks, was going to point this out also. A friend of mine volunteers for this service – she’s Deaf and a big fan of this service for anyone who is Deaf or otherwise not able to use a phone.

  2. This is a wonderful post but I think it’s important to clarify that Samaritans is NOT staffed by trained counsellors. Instead it’s staffed by volunteers from all walks of life that have been given (excellent and extensive) active listening training by Samaritans itself. That makes them a very valuable resource when you need someone caring and confidential to talk to, and you can really talk to them about anything, but they are explicitly not there to give advice.

    1. I came here to talk about the Samaritans, too. I contacted them twice, once by phone and once via their online contact system, and have had two very bad experiences – as in, their response to me was dangerously anti-useful, not just not quite to my taste. Half the reason I contacted them the second time was that I was convinced that something must have gone terribly wrong in the first conversation, but the written response was very similar both in tone and content. It makes me wonder if there is a bug in their training. I am not suggesting that they are bad as a whole, but I would be extremely careful in recommending them, particularly to at-risk individuals.

  3. Is it okay to recommend affordable local mental health services that we can vouch for, or would you prefer to keep this post about services that people can access no matter where they are?

  4. #1, Recovery International, saved my life. In my 20s (I’m in my 40s now), I had severe, debilitating depression and anxiety. I was fortunate to find a local meeting filled with wise senior citizens who listened with compassion and helped teach me ways to manage my fears and pain. Some had undergone unimaginable tragedy and still had good, joyful lives, and we’re willing to give back that peace to others. They, and the Recovery books and philosophies, taught me so much.

    I stopped going when I had kids, but I will forever be so grateful that they were there when I was suffering, and I can’t recommend them highly enough. More than once this grim last year I’ve gotten out my worn, bedraggled, underlined and highlighted copy of Mental Health through Will Training to get me through difficult times.

    1. Hit post too soon: one great things about meetings is the Recovery policy of no discussion of medications, sex,* religion, of politics at meetings, and no advice-giving. As an indigo blue dot in a deep red place, I really valued (and still miss) humanistic fellowship with people of very different beliefs.

      * There was, in my group, a widower whose husband had passed away a few years earlier. He often spoke of him and it was treated no differently than any other discussion of family, so I think the “no sex” part referred to actual sex and not intimate relationships. That’s an important distinction, I think, since there are places not far from here where mentioning anything but cis-heterosexual monogamous marriage is considered a political provocation (ugh).

  5. I wanted to give a quick warning about 7 Cups Of Tea (this isn’t about the quality of their actual help, which I have no direct experience of). During a very low period I managed to get as far as signing up, but not as far as talking to a ‘listener’. I was then *bombarded* with emails, reminders, alerts, notifications ‘you have a new message’ etc from them. Multiple times a day. And ended up feeling so much worse as a result. Anxious and sick and with a mean little depression brain narrative of ‘look, you even failed at fake therapy’.

    So yeah, if you’re going to give 7 Cups Of Tea a go make sure that you either untick everything that needs unticking (I honestly don’t remember if missed an obvious setting, it freaked me out so badly that it’s fuzzy) or that this is the sort of thing that will make you feel cared for rather than shouted at.

  6. In the European Union there is a free child helpline number for anyone aged under 19 – 116 111 – which will be answered by services in the country you call from. For the UK that is Childline, who are also contactable via their website – They are staffed by trained volunteers, supervised by qualified social workers. Depending on your situation, they can just be a listening ear, or help put you in contact with local services.

  7. The Calm app,, is a good parallel to Headspace if you want to try both of them and see what fits. It’s free to download and has a free 7 Days of Calm intro series to introduce you to the narrator and general approach.

    Access to the full paid version starts at $10/month but has discounted yearly options and other offers in the weeks after you first download it. I paid $60 for a full year and been really happy with it six months in. It has a fresh daily meditation, 7-day series for things like relieving anxiety, and a set of sleep meditations. Those range from soothing descriptions of lavender fields to a British shipping forecast, and I’ve found that they’re *great* for racing night thoughts.

    1. Calm also has the odd promotion – I used the free features for about 6 months then got a special to gift to someone and get a free year myself. I think I was like $35 for the two? Anyway, if you are on the fence about paying for apps or online services, linger in the free zone until the right marketing email shows up. If they have your email address, there *will* be marketing email (truism).

      I liked the headspace intro series more, and then switched to calm for ongoing meditation (really really liked their anxiety series). Their daily meditation was hit or miss for me, probably due to my cynicism 🙂

    2. Another +1 for Calm; in addition a wide variety of meditations, I also love their Sleep sounds (from soothing short stories to gentle music, plus a few meant to trigger ASMR experiences)

  8. I see you have Headspace up there, so I’d also like to recommend Smiling Mind as a completely free meditation/mindfulness app and website. All of its courses are completely free, with ones aimed at adults as well as younger people.

    1. X1000 – Smiling mind is an amazing free app. Used it every day – you can follow a programme or do regular timed meditations.

      And the voice is so lovely… I would (sometimes) relax just hearing the introduction.

      Thanks to Tiffany for such a detailed rundown.

    2. I use Headspace and really like it – they have a feature if you hit certain goals you can score a 3 month free access voucher. If there is someone in this community who would like to make use of it feel free

  9. I clicked on the Sip and Om podcast link and while there is a free trial, the service is not free.

  10. I use Moodscope ( There’s a paid option but the basic one is free with no annoying ads or anything.

    Other users write blog posts that are emailed to you daily with a reminder to record your score (rating 20 mood aspects from 0-3). I don’t always find the blog posts helpful, but if you do you can leave comments and interact on the blog. I just find this a good way to make a daily record of how I’m doing, which keeps me from being surprised when “suddenly” I’m doing terribly. Also, you can have your score emailed to “buddies” which can be a therapist or just a friend – in my case it’s my sister, so if one of us is having a bad day we get notified via email and can reach out with support. I find this way easier than reaching out myself to say “I’m having a bad day”.

  11. I have used Woebot on FB instant messenger. It is free and based on CBT. It is a bot, but it does a decent job of walking you through CBT exercises, based on your responses. And it messages you daily to invite you to check in.

  12. The Hilarious World of Depression podcast, hosted by John Moe. I’m only one episode in and it’s been so comforting already. Extra points if you’re an NPR fan, the first guest is Peter Sagal.

  13. Oh, and possibly worth noting that a Headspace subscription is *free* for students in the UK (accessible via NUS card, university email address etc). I don’t know if this is true outside the UK.

  14. I love apps, apparently.

    I really like Andrew Johnson’s sleep app because I find his voice very relaxing. It is a pay app, but it’s a one-time charge rather than a subscription and it’s only $3 (US). He has many other apps & mp3s on his website for meditation and relaxation.

    Stop, Breathe & Think has both a free and a pay version. The free version has a number of different guided meditations – mindfulness, resilience, body scan, kindness, etc, etc

    Booster Buddy is a free mental health tracking app that can help check in with your own symptoms, do self care and stuff like that. It’s geared towards teens and young adults so it has a slightly youngish feel to it. YMMV.

  15. DBSA and NAMI might be good resources in other places, but in my city, the groups I’ve attended have consisted largely of people complaining about their medications and/or side effects of said meds. Maybe that helps them, but I don’t find it particularly useful myself, when I’m in need of support, to listen to people fuss about their meds. (IMO, discussing the effects, good or bad, of any given medication/med regimen needs to be done with the practitioner who prescribes said medication[s], not at a room full of people, especially given that response to medications [from useful to really, really not] is very individual; one person could be violently allergic to a medication that is THE BEST EVER for another person.)

    I also got pretty uncomfortable the last time I tried a DBSA group (probably a year or so ago), and I was one of three women in a room of 12-15 people. I don’t hate men (far from it), but I’m not super comfortable opening up emotionally in a room dominated by men I don’t know at all, and I suspect I’m not the only woman to feel that way.

    Like I said, that may be a function of location and not the organizations overall, but it’s something people might want to know.

    1. That being said, their websites can be good sources for finding individual therapy and/or medication management. Just the support groups run by both those organizations in my city were somewhere between unhelpful and actively anti-helpful for me personally.

    2. Many hospitals have free support groups unrelated to NAMI or DBSA, which varies on your area, of course, but typically they are run by someone with more training which makes them more directive and therapeutic (and non-tangential) on average.

      When it comes to support groups, I feel they are highly variable too, but a good facilitator makes a big difference. Even if you have insurance, many won’t pay for group therapy which I’ve always found anti-helpful.

  16. Thank you for these links! I have been trying to find a mood tracking app that I like! I also may share some of the US links with my coworkers (in home family therapists) as it may be helpful for some of the caregivers/teens we work with!

  17. 19 Minute Yoga (at for Apple devices) is a decent free-ish yoga practice that is designed to be done without watching the screen (it has pictures but not a person you have to follow). It is free for the basic service and $5 addon lessons. Thanks so much for these links – my anxiety is through the roof right now. :/ This is more on the “this might be helpful to calm your racing brain” rather than “this is going to be like therapy.”

    1. (sorry I didn’t realise that the reblog would show up in the comments as well. Please feel free to delete the second comment)

  18. I wanted to note a caveat about meditation/guided meditation: there are some people it very much helps! There are also situations where it’s the opposite of helpful.

    If you’re already in a very bad place with depression, being alone with your mind without a trained helper is sometimes a very bad idea. And conditions where hypervigilance is a symptom can react badly to following along with guided meditations.

    Basically, if you think it sounds like a bad idea for your specific state, you’re entirely likely right.

    For a while, I was barraged with recommendations by some very well-meaning friends and relatives, and instead of being helpful, it felt like being attacked from all sides, because they did. not. stop. pushing. it. because it had worked so well for them and they wanted me to get the same benefit, except our situations were different and they did not accept me saying no.

    I ultimately was lucky enough to get a regular appointment with a trained and licensed therapist, and medication which worked for me.

    1. Yes! It is very important that this is amplified: if you (reader of the comments) aren’t helped by one of these or any of these suggestions, *it doesn’t mean you are incurable* or difficult or whatever you worry it means. It just means that the thing you tried wasn’t what you needed.

      Mindfulness practice/meditation actually doesn’t work for everyone, and that is the beauty of human variation, not a black mark on your soul if it’s not for you!

    2. This is a great point.

      Also, the modality that works for you can change. I’ve tried meditation three separate times in my life. The first time, it was a ticket straight into a panic attack. The second, when I took a mindfulness-based stress reduction class a few years later, it was not unpleasant but also not particularly helpful. And now, a decade later, it is an incredibly rewarding and helpful daily practice for me.

      I appreciate the comment that it’s not a “black mark on your soul” when a method doesn’t work for you. I DID think I was a failure at fixing myself when I first tried meditating and haaaaaated it. But it just wasn’t the right thing for me at that point in time.

  19. Ok, these are the free things that have helped me most:

    You feel like shit, a caring game that calms you down and helps you get started at things

    How to structure your days when you’re depressed – a really helpful article from Rookie

    How to tighten up your game at work when you’re depressed – a Captain Awkward post 🙂

    Life hacks for mental illness – a list for when it’s really hitting you hard, and really useful tips

    Free online courses for a range of mental health problems – including perfectionism, procrastination, health anxiety, eating disorders and more.

    Free guided meditations – many different sorts, including body scan and lovingkindness

    Self-compassion exercises

    Worksheets from ANU university – on a range of topics, mostly focussing on uni stuff

    21 Tips to Keep Your Shit Together When You’re Depressed. – truly useful tips!

    And for Australians:

    Lifeline crisis chat

    Hope these are useful to someone!

  20. Oh, and this may be a rather niche piece of advice, but I’ve found clinical trials are a really super way of getting access to free, state-of-the-art meds and excellent psychiatrists. There are many many clinical trials going on in hospitals all the time, but finding them can be a bit tricky. There are worldwide trials on ketamine and that magnetic head thing at the moment. If you’re a bit brave and have at least a day a week free it might be something to check out.

  21. Along with therapy, I found that I really got a lot of help from (ACoA) Adult Children of Alcoholics (and Other Dysfunctional Families)

    It’s free and for adults from any kind of dysfunctional family. It is similar to Alanon in that they follow the 12 step model, However, it helps you go back through your family experiences as you grew up. Alanon seems to be more about the Here and Now. My groups don’t force me to follow all the steps, but rather take what I need from the group and leave the rest.

    I go to Alanon and ACoA because I get different things from both and it all helps me. Each group has their own dynamic and you may decide to try another group location depending on your comfort level.

  22. Super helpful list, and super timely. Many thanks, I will send a link to some people who can pass it on, and I will also use some of the resources. Much thankfulness!

  23. I use the Furry Friend cat purr generator pretty regularly. I don’t currently have a cat, and anyway I’m always at work/school/the library, so having a customizable fake cat is helpful. It’s free online, or you can download the myNoise app (for free) and download the generator ($0.99) – I haven’t tried the app yet, but I can vouch for the online version.

  24. Thanks Tiffany, Captain and people in the comments who are sharing helpful resources. I am at a time in my life where money is very tight and I need mental health support, so this is incredibly timely and helpful!

  25. Hello Captain. You are absolutely the Bomb Dot Com for sharing these. ❤ I've never commented before but I must ask: do you know of any free/low cost options, similar to the above, that are DBT-focused? (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy.) Thank you again. 🙂

  26. Just a really REALLY big Thank You for this.
    Just listened to some of the – stuff and almost cried just bc someone said they’d be with me when I have trouble sleeping.

  27. Thanks so much for including us in this amazing list!!! Will be sharing it!!! Thank you.

  28. I really like Pacifica! It’s gotten very robust and if you pony up the $6 a month for about 2 months, you can make it through their entire CBT path, which I think gives you a pretty good overview of CBT techniques. Their Anxiety Emergency recording is absolute gold and has gotten me out of panic on more than one occasion (my best friend, who witnessed this once, called it magical). I also second Stop Breathe and Think as a free meditation app–the tone of their meditations appeals to me (unlike Calm, which I just couldn’t click with for some reason) and I like that they give you meditations that match your mood. It’s not as comprehensive as some of the paid options (unless you pay for the additional meditations…) but as a free option it’s pretty good. Also seconding You Feel Like Shit, which is great at getting me out of that headspace where I can’t get on with my day and be a human.

  29. Just want to plug Your Local Library. They still exist! And, unlike Amazon, they’re actually free!

  30. Another free option is Spotify’s various “Moods”, “Focus” and “Sleep” playlists (under the Browse option) – they are specifically curated and regularly updated to help uplift, relax, unwind & concentrate.

  31. This has helped me in that past so I thought I’d pass it on. I love you and I hope today is better. 💝 mum

  32. NAMI is another great resource! They often have free support groups, too, and will be able to give you loads of local resources:

    Also, there are many crisis lines that are called “warm lines,” which means you can call when you are overwhelmed and not necessarily suicidal, and these are also highly variable, but tend to be free. Many Medicaid providers actually have free crisis lines you can use, too. Call and ask if you have Medicaid.

    If you can’t access therapy for insurance reasons, many therapists are willing to do sliding scale. I wasn’t able to afford therapy and found out in the past that my medical group would waive my copays if I applied for financial assistance, so I did. If you have insurance and can’t afford copays, this may be an option. It never hurts to ask a therapist or psychiatrist, though. Many will charge far less because many are paying it forward, and many keep room in their case load for sliding scale/very low cost options for folks.

    If you have high deductible insurance and cannot afford it, call and ask if they have out of network mental health benefits. This will not help everyone because you’d have to pay for sessions out of pocket, however insurance then reimburses you and you can pay for most of it, as well as possibly meeting a chunk of your deductible.

    Call Universities with psychology departments and see if they have counseling labs. Governor’s State in Illinois, for instance, has a counseling lab where you can get I think 10-12 free sessions. They may be doctoral students doing the therapy, but highly experienced psychologists are reviewing their work constantly. Look up places that train interns and call and ask if there are free or low-cost services.

    If you go to a university in the united states, many have health centers with 100% free counseling that is short term to moderate term. Deff. check that out of you are in college, as it’s, well, free.

    If you are short funds and/or can only afford minimal cash or have medicaid, use the SAMHSA treatment finder to more easily find somewhere that may work:

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