Money and mental health: getting therapy on a low income

Updated on 12 May 2021

As part of our Mental Health Awareness Week coverage, we look at all the ways you can get help, from NHS services to cutting the cost of private cover, as well as employer and university support.

The cost of mental health

Whether you're a new parent, a professional struggling to balance work and life, a student heading off to university for the first time or recently bereaved, mental health concerns are common.

According to the Money and Mental Health Foundation, half of all adults in problem debt also have a mental health condition and people with problem debt are twice as likely to develop major depression compared to those not in financial difficulty. 

You can learn more about getting free debt advice here.

Worryingly, the above statistics suggest the individuals in greatest need of mental health support are most likely to struggle with the cost of getting access to these services.

We've put together a guide on the best options for free and low-cost mental health support.

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NHS services

Counselling services are free on the NHS.

To access these, you'll need to be registered with a GP, but won't necessarily need a referral from your doctor and can refer yourself to psychological therapies services.

Depending on where you live, you'll need to be 18 or over to refer yourself for psychological help, although some services do offer help for young people aged 16 and 17.

The service will normally perform an assessment, which involves asking for more details about your symptoms and their severity. Based on your answers, the therapy service will use this information to decide if you could benefit from counselling.

Waiting lists vary, so it may be worth asking your local psychological services how long you may be expected to wait for an appointment.

If you're concerned about your privacy, NHS psychological services won't contact your GP without your consent unless there is a serious concern you could harm yourself or others.

Mental health and finance: delayed grief cost me £17,000

Get therapy on the NHS (image: Shutterstock)

Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT)

This is an NHS programme to offer therapy for common mental health problems and is normally available free of charge without talking to your GP.

The type of therapy you can receive depends on where you live.

Find IAPT services near you.

Counselling from your employer

Some companies pay for counselling services through employee assistance programmes, although in most cases, there will be a limit on the number of sessions the employer will fund.

Although businesses vary, many companies offer between five and eight confidential sessions free of charge.

Your line manager won't normally need to know you have decided to seek help and your HR department has a responsibility to keep any information regarding your mental health in strict confidence. 

Any mental health condition that causes you a disability will be covered under the Equality Act, which means your employer will need to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to help you carry out your job.

Although the definition of ‘reasonable’ will depend on your profession, these can involve: 

  • changes to your working hours
  • allowing you to work from home
  • giving you time off for treatment

To learn more about mental health and employment, visit Mind.

How to get counselling from your employer (image: Shutterstock)

University mental health help

For university students, it's tempting to focus on the impact that university will have on both their social and academic lives. 

Yet being away from home for, what may well be the first time, can also bring a host of concerns about mental health, connected with academic pressure, making new friends and being away from family.

The financial pressures of being in education often rule out private care, but many universities offer free in-house counselling for students struggling to cope.

If you (or your child's) mental health condition is classed as a disability, you can apply for Disabled Students' Allowance (DSA).

The DSA pays for:

  • specialist equipment 
  • additional travel 
  • other disability-related support while studying

To learn more, visit the website.

Private therapy

For many people, private therapy is simply too expensive and, according to the NHS website, you can expect to pay between £10 and £70 per session.

If you decide to go down this route, there are a number of things you can do to increase your chances of finding the right doctor and ensuring the cost is under control.

The first step may be to consult a directory of psychologists such as:

If you're struggling with the cost of therapy, you may want to ask the following questions:

  • Are there reduced rates for those on a low income?
  • What is the exact cost per session?
  • Does the doctor offer a free introductory session?
  • Is there a charge for missed/late appointments?

Cutting the cost of private therapy (image: Shutterstock)

A mental health emergency

If you're experiencing a mental health crisis, you may not feel you can wait several weeks for a reply from your local psychological services through the NHS.

You should treat this situation as seriously as any crisis with your physical health.

If you have an urgent mental health crisis, there are a number of things you can do:

  • Samaritans offers a free service 24 hours a day: call on 116 123
  • Call 999
  • Visit A&E if you need immediate help 

All these resources are free to use.

Find out more

If you're not yet ready to see a doctor, there are a number of websites that can provide support for mental health issues.

Read more on depression and debt: how your mental health links with your money problems


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