Investing in my mental health has been non-negotiable as I heal from Religious Trauma Syndrome, but I’ve also had to be mindful of my budget, especially as a divorced mom with five kids still at home. Note, the most important tip is the very last, so don’t skip it!
Disclaimer: I am in no way qualified to give medical or psychiatric advice. These are tips that have helped me save money on improving my mental health, and aren’t a replacement for help with a qualified practitioner. If you’re in crisis and need immediate help, call or text 988 in the USA and Canada, text ‘SHOUT’ to 85258 in the UK.
How to save money on mental health
I’ll start with the most obvious:
If you have health insurance, check your benefits.
Depending on your coverage, you may be able to see a therapist for free or a small co-pay.
Employee assistance program
If you’re employed, look into your company’s EAP. When I was working (part-time – the full-time benefits were more comprehensive), I qualified to receive ten EMDR sessions free “per event”. I also got several free sessions with an online therapist through BetterHelp.
Many employers are offering mental health benefits now in recognition of how it impacts productivity. If you’re unsure, call your company’s benefits department and your insurance company (there may be separate benefits from each) and ask.
Sliding fee/reduced cost counseling
Some therapists will take finances into consideration, even if not advertised on their website. My daughter’s regular therapist does BOGO sessions for her. Be prepared to prove your income – your therapist may ask for pay stubs or your tax return.
After I quit my job, I planned on ending my EMDR therapy once the free sessions were used up. I told my therapist. She offered to continue at a reduced fee. Instead of paying $110 per session, she’s charging me $35. My therapist only accepts one sliding-scale client at a time, and that ended up being me. You might not know unless you ask!
My daughter gets free therapy as a student. Many colleges offer free counseling services in their tuition for full-time students. Less so for part-time or online students.
This site is a directory for financial assistance, food pantries, medical care, and other free or reduced-cost help in your area. By entering your zip code, you can search for reduced-cost or free counseling services.
Even if you can’t find anything related to therapy, you might locate other resources you qualify for that can help you save money, meaning you can allocate more of your budget to mental health care. You may also find that you qualify for Medicaid.
State-funded community mental health programs
Search OpenCounseling to find public mental health services near you. Note: some of the search results will feature church-sponsored, faith-based counseling. If your issues come from religious harm, it’s probably best to stay away from those and find a secular therapist.
Medication is absolutely the right choice for some, and if your doctor approves of generic, you can combine that with your insurance coverage to save money.
I took an anti-anxiety medication briefly, and it was a blessing. I rarely need it anymore, but I’m so glad I had it when my anxiety was out of control. At one point it was bad enough to cause physical symptoms like heart palpitations. I’m wearing a heart monitor in this picture because the cardiologist wanted to track my symptoms.
If mental health issues are disrupting your life to the point where you’re having difficulty functioning, you need a professional.
But there are lifestyle tips that can support your therapy or ease your symptoms, and those should be part of your well-being toolbox. They’re also great maintenance for everyone to protect their mental health.
There are other excellent ways to save money on mental health. The following resources are free or low cost.
The huge success of groups such as Al-Anon shows that talking about your challenges in the safety of a support group is life-changing for many. At the very least, it helps you create community, and that’s essential for mental health for us homo sapiens.
To find one, Google your issue plus “near me”. So for example, “divorce support group near me” or “religious trauma support group near me”. When I searched for the latter, I found an in-person and an online group that meets via Zoom. Some of these support groups are even facilitated by a licensed counselor. It’s important to find a group that has healthy boundaries and rules to create psychological safety. Unmoderated message forums filled with traumatized people can be re-triggering and unhelpful.
Online support groups typically have message forums or Facebook groups for participants to tell their stories and chat. Some of these relationships end up going offline. I’ve made new friends as a result of joining Meetup groups of former cult members, for example.
Meditation, gratitude, and journaling
All of these tools are free and can be very helpful with intrusive thoughts, anxiety and depression. Meditation can be learned for free. There are thousands of YouTube videos that can teach you how to do it, and many free apps that will remind you to practice daily and provide guidance.
Journaling has been my go-to for a long time. Journaling helps me gently question my unpleasant thoughts and create new, healthier ones. It also shows me patterns, making it easier to break unhelpful ruts that my mind has relied on in the past. Journaling can also augment your therapy. I always take notes to bring to my therapy appointments, and keep a record of my doctor’s insights.
A gratitude practice can help shift our thoughts to ones of abundance, reminding us of what’s going right in our lives. It can be as simple as writing down three things we appreciate each day.
The reason meditation, gratitude and journaling work is the same: they create mindfulness.
Many studies link exercise with improved mood. I doubt I have to convince any reader of this. Exercise has been extremely helpful in my recovery from anxiety and cPTSD. Strenuous exercise is a healthy outlet for feelings of anger as well.
“Exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function.”National Institutes of Health
“Pooled research worldwide has revealed that physical exercise is more effective than a control group and is a viable remedy for depression.”National Library of Medicine
The trouble is, it’s very hard to exercise when you’re depressed. Someone suffering from depression might need to enlist the help of others to get them moving. “Body doubling” (discussed a lot in ADHD circles) has been an effective tactic for me. When my mood is low and I can’t motivate myself, I’ll ask one of my kids to invite me to join them when they go on a walk. Once I get moving, I can stay moving.
Improve your sleep
One reason exercise helps improve mood is because it helps us sleep better. Poor sleep quality can cause and exacerbate mental health struggles. A lot of sleep experts use the term “sleep hygiene” to refer to the ideal sleep environment and behavior. In a nutshell:
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time daily
- Get 7-9 hours of sleep (for adults) – people differ, so know your number
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol several hours before bed
- Sleep in a cool room
- Avoid screens and lights in the hour or two before bed
- Have a simple wind-down bedtime routine
- Only sleep (and sex) in bed, nothing else
- Avoid long naps
- Expose yourself to early morning sunlight daily
Good sleep begets more good sleep. Sometimes, a temporary round of medication can help you get the sleep you need to reset. For me, anti-anxiety meds had the double effect of reducing anxiety attacks during the day but also allowing me to sleep at night (when panicky feelings would often be worse), which meant less anxiety the following day: a virtuous circle!
Healthy diet changes
I find that eating sugar and simple carbs causes my blood sugar to swing more dramatically, and that can lead to unpleasant mood changes. Increasing protein and eating at regular intervals can keep blood sugar steady and supply our brain with the glucose it needs to function.
Alcohol and caffeine disrupt sleep, and that has obvious effects on our outlook. When I was experiencing heart palpitations from anxiety, I had to quit caffeine for a time to get those under control.
Me, enjoying the hammock my son put up in the yard.
Spend time outside daily
Without doing any research into this topic, most of us intuitively know that spending time outside makes us feel better. This is due to biophilia, our innate human instinct to connect with nature, where we evolved over millenia. Taking walks outside, visiting gardens, working in the yard, biking, camping, putting our bare feet in the grass to ground us – all of this helps our mental health.
Change your life
I left this one for last, but it’s probably the most important.
All the therapy in the world won’t solve our mental health issues if we need to make fundamental changes in our life. Without addressing the real issue at the foundation of our unhappiness, we’re slapping bandages on cancer. (And I haven’t even gotten to systemic issues of oppression and our unsustainable capitalist grind culture, which causes so many mental health challenges.)
In the words of a psychotherapist and research fellow at Kings College, London, Tirril Harris: “it’s not the brain gone wrong but life going wrong”. Depression and anxiety can be a reflection of ways in which people have been cut off from what they innately need but seem to have lost.The Yoga Therapy Institute
In the book I Don’t Want to Talk About It, psychotherapist, author and researcher Terrence Real makes the case that depression is a disease of disconnection, an idea that’s gaining traction in mental health circles. Disconnection from self and our values and purpose. A disconnection from others – lack of intimacy, loneliness, fractured community. And disconnection from our planet and its rhythms.
Depression could be described as learned helplessness after a long period of disconnection. Its message is: Something is very wrong. Slow down. Pay attention. Fold into yourself and rest, so you can see reality and get the energy to fix it.
Anxiety’s message is: Something is scary, stay away from it. Run, fight, play dead! You’re going to die if you don’t get out of here!
Viewing it this way, these so-called mental illnesses are messengers. We ignore them at our peril.
For me, anxiety was a signal that I was in a cult, and I needed to leave to find safety, happiness and wholeness. Other people might need to come out of the closet and embrace their queerness. Or become a goat farmer. Go back to school. Write that book. Live in a van, drive across the country as a travel blogger. Or leave a loveless, sexless marriage and find the affectionate relationship they deeply crave.
Whatever you “thing” is, you probably won’t be happy until you do it. And so perhaps the best way to save money on mental health is to unapologetically design the life you want.
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