‘I need therapy, but I can’t afford it.’ What are your options?

Val Watson
Authored by Val Watson
Posted Monday, June 7, 2021 - 12:22pm

We often cite lack of awareness as one of the main reasons why more people don’t seek therapy, but this is not the only obstacle keeping Great Britain from having better levels of mental health. In the past year, stress and anxiety have affected everyone, from students to the elderly, and studies have shown that factors such as social distancing, job loss, and loneliness will have a lasting impact on our mental health. But, despite more people being aware of the importance of therapy than ever before, not everyone is financially prepared to attend sessions. Therapy is more affordable than it was in the past but, even so, it remains a luxury that many still can’t afford. 

In the UK, therapy sessions can cost between £45-£180, with the average rate at £65/hour, which is more than what the average person can spend, especially now, with COVID-19 and Brexit-induced uncertainty. The relationship between financial struggles and poor mental health is complicated, and, quite often, people are caught in a catch-22 situation where debt causes stress and the other way around. People in low-income communities or people who have recently been laid off due to COVID are more likely to experience stress, anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem, but they’re also the least likely to get treatment. 

Nationwide, the numbers don’t paint such a positive picture: only 3% of UK adults are currently receiving treatment for mental health conditions, and 75% of people looking for help will not receive it. 

If you are concerned about your mental health, but cannot afford the full costs of therapy, know that you are not alone. There are ways to access high-quality mental health support, even on a budget: 

Apply for NHS services 

The NHS has done a good job lately at expanding access to therapy sessions for patients from low-income backgrounds, and you can now join programmes such as Improving Access to Psychological Therapies. In most cases, you will need a referral from your GP, but this isn’t necessarily a rule, and you may be able to refer yourself for therapy. However, keep in mind that when you refer yourself, you will have to pass an assessment and, based on your answers and the severity of your symptoms, a specialist will decide if you are eligible for therapy. Most NHS programmes are available for adults and teenagers over 16. 

Consider low-cost therapy 

While the NHS’s efforts are definitely praise-worthy, they are, unfortunately, not enough to meet the increasing demand for therapy. In certain regions of the UK, the waiting time for the first free session can exceed 60 days. To add to that, some people have had to wait anywhere between 20 and 162 days between sessions. According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, these long waiting times often push people into desperate situations, and two-fifths of patients awaiting treatment end up resorting to emergency or crisis services. 

If the NHS has placed you on a long waiting list, low-cost therapy can be an alternative. Many therapists have understood the necessity for affordable mental health solutions and now offer reduced rates as part of special programmers. If you are a frontline worker, you may also be eligible for a discount. Some therapists have advertised these services openly, others have not, but, in any case, it’s worth doing some research and checking whether private practices in your area offer therapy concessions. 

Get in touch with a local NGO

One of the reasons why mental health is no longer the taboo topic it was a few years ago is that mental health NGOs have carried out extensive awareness campaigns. They are some of the first to have offered free mental health support to those in need and, during the COVID-19 crisis, they certainly haven’t given up on their mission. If you have noticed that your symptoms have worsened, or you feel the need to talk to someone, NGOs in your area may be able to help you with free therapy sessions, crisis helplines, or just someone to talk to. Many charity networks that focus on a certain group, such as students, the elderly, single moms, or victims of abuse, also offer free mental health support, so don’t hesitate to reach out. Even if their services may not always be a substitute for therapy, they can help while awaiting treatment. 

Talk to your employer or university

If you are currently employed and need mental health support, ask your Human Resources department if you can join an employee assistance program. Don’t worry about your employer finding out; all information about your mental health is private. If free or discounted therapy is not available, HR may still be able to make some adjustments to improve your wellbeing, such as allowing you to work from home, change your work schedule, or give you time off. 

Mental health issues can also affect young adults. In fact, 73% of students aged 18-24 have reported worse mental health during the pandemic, saying that they felt worried about their future, frustrated, lonely, sad, and angry. The pandemic has also prevented many students from finding a job or forced them to accept risky jobs as essential workers, which has raised stress levels even more. If you are in this situation, talking to the University counsellor is a great place to start because many universities have free in-house counselling or can refer you for a student mental health program. 

Self-help strategies 

While self-help strategies aren’t the same as professional therapy, they may help improve your wellbeing and partly manage your symptoms. Some self-help strategies you can try until you go to therapy include joining an online support group, using mental health apps, reading books about your condition, journaling, and meditating. Physical exercise, good nutrition, and avoiding negative habits such as alcohol abuse, overeating, gambling, and compulsive shopping will help you prevent trigger your symptoms and are recommended all the time, even after starting therapy. 

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