Health and Wellness

These are challenging times — here's how to get free mental health assistance

@nina_p_v | Twenty20

As millions of people around the world are protesting police brutality in the wake of George Floyd's death, the Covid-19 pandemic continues to sweep the nation. Many people are experiencing increased levels of stress and anxiety as a result. 

"The effect of racism and racial trauma on mental health is real and cannot be ignored," Daniel H. Gillison, Jr., CEO of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) said in a statement May 29. 

And a new survey from the Centers for Disease Control confirms what many people have felt throughout the Covid-19 crisis: the pandemic is affecting our mental health in significant ways.

About one-third of Americans ages 18 and up reported feeling symptoms of anxiety and depression, according to the data, which came from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) and the Census Bureau, and was collected from April 23 to May 19. About 46% of young people in the 18 to 29 age brackets reported these symptoms.

To put that in perspective, before the pandemic, only 11% of adults over 18 reported the same symptoms of anxiety and depression.

"We need to get ahead of flattening the mental health needs curve," Luana Marques, clinical psychologist and associate professor in the department of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and president of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, tells CNBC Make It.

From therapy to coping mechanisms, here are some free and low-cost resources that can help you during this time:

(For help finding mental health resources, call the NAMI Helpline at 800-950-NAMI or in a crisis, text "NAMI" to 741741. If you're in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.)

Watch a webinar

Trying to decode your feelings? The Anxiety and Depression Association of America has numerous webinars hosted by psychologists and mental health clinicians that you can watch at any time on YouTube. The experts break down difficult subject matter and provide solutions to problems many people are facing now, like how to cope with financial stress, how to set work-life boundaries and how families can manage anxiety.

Use meditation exercises

Headspace, the app that Bill Gates recently said "made me a convert" to meditation is offering a free one-year subscription to anyone who is unemployed or furloughed. Studies have shown that mindfulness meditation, a type of meditation that involves paying attention to thoughts and feelings in the present moment, can relieve anxiety and depression and help you focus.

Join online support groups

If you don't have health insurance, online support groups can be helpful, Marques says. Look for local groups that are evidence-based, and focus on the area you're struggling with, she says. (For example, the ADAA has a database of support groups around the country, as well as the organization's own peer-to-peer support group.)

And if you have specific questions, social media can be a great tool during this time. For example, Esther Boykin, a licensed family and marriage therapist in Washington DC, hosts a weekly free "mental health" happy hour on Instagram Live. The Instagram account, Therapy for Black Girls, often shares crowd-sourced tips about work-life balance, burnout and stress, plus has a directory of therapists.

Utilize employee and student resources

"Most employers are offering some level therapy for their employees," Marques says. Ask your human resources department about employee assistance programs that you can take advantage of for free or little cost.

Similarly, most college health centers offer low-cost or free counseling services, Marques says. In addition to therapy, they may have wellness resources, such as meditation workshops and relaxation tools, available for students. Although you may not be on your college campus, virtual therapy is just as good as counseling in-person, she adds.   

Check out your state health department

Your state's health department website may have helpful mental health services, including emotional support helplines, tips for mental wellness during an emergency and a list of behavioral health providers.

Contact your health insurance provider

If you decide you need to seek professional support from a therapist or licensed mental health counselor, your health insurance provider is a good place to start looking, Marques says. (Health insurance companies are required by law to cover of services for mental health, behavioral health and substance-use disorders that are comparable to physical health coverage.) The company should have a database of clinicians who are accepting patients.

A few questions Marques suggests asking before you settle on one: "Do you offer evidence-based science-driven therapy? Have you ever worked with someone like me before? How many sessions should I expect to attend?" 

If you're concerned about the cost, you may want to ask if the clinician provides appointments on a "sliding scale." Talk therapy appointments can cost between $100 to $200 a session, according to GoodTherapy, a database of therapists. 

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