How to get affordable/free mental health support

Dear BPN,

A dear friend who also happens to be an exceptionally wonderful person has been experiencing debilitating anxiety and panic attacks.  His work situation recently changed and he no longer gets health insurance through his employer. It’s expected to be a temporary thing  while he looks for longer term full-time employment opportunity.  However, financially can barely cover his expenses let alone mental health costs, and he is being very frugal! The problem is these panic attacks are making it extremely hard for him to put the time and effort needed for the job search. I have never seen someone try so hard to stay productive and positive while suffering so much. His current financial situation is new for him, which makes things worse, but his condition is hindering his progress to get out of it. He needs help and probably medication. 

How does someone in his circumstances get medication and mental health services when he can’t afford it? What’s the process?  Note: I have offered to help financially but his pride won’t allow that. 

Thank you in advance for any guidance here. 

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Sorry to hear that your friend is having so much trouble. If he lives in Berkeley or Albany he can get services, including psychiatric care, from Berkley Mental Health. You can find more information here: 

Some clinics offer a sliding fee scale for ongoing therapy. I would check: 

The Wright Institute:

JFK in Oakland:

Pacific Center offers sliding scale psychotherapy and support groups for LGBTQ folk:

I would start with those. 

I know a current client of Rubicon Programs ( who enthusiastically recommends them. I know this person is unemployed so isn't able to pay for services and is receiving mental health, housing, and employment support, in addition to other support. It seems like they have great wrap-around /social work services

Low-fee therapy is available at the Wright Institute Clinic: 510-548-9716, or the Wright Institute CBT Clinic: 510-923-2241. Good luck

Hello- Sausal Creek can be a wait once you’re there, but can provide medication and MH services. Hope this helps!

A few ideas, but they will require some more intensive research and follow-up:

  • Panic Disorder Information Hotline: 1-800-64-PANIC (72642
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)  Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. EST.  
  • NAMI also has local chapters which may be able to refer you to low-cost therapy and other support services. 
  • The Anxiety and Depression Association of America has a $15 book outlining a seven-step process for dealing with panic attacks.  They may be able to offer other resources when contacted.  See
  • Recovery, Inc.  It is a self-help group and you can attend meetings (which request but do not require a $5 donation).  It's based on Dr. Abraham Low's approach; the books cost around $20 and he could probably get them at the library or second-hand.
  • Some of the local graduate schools for training counselors (Ph.Ds, MFCCs, MSW) have students who see clients for a low fee as part of their training.   It's a bit of a crap shoot, but if he is lucky he may find someone to work with who makes him feel better.
  • Meditation can help lower anxiety and reduce the frequency of panic attacks; there are apps he can download on his phone and even websites where he can stream a guided meditation.  The library will also probably have CDs he can try out.  He might also find a local group or something offered through a church or synagogue.
  • Some people have good luck with Rescue Remedy (an OTC homeopathic remedy).  It did nothing for me, but he might want to try it.
  • He should contact his local Social Services office to see if he qualifies for Medi-Cal or subsidized insurance.  He's paid for it with his taxes, so he should feel no shame in needing to do so.  That at least can get him in to see a psychiatrist to see if any medications can help him.  Possibly he can also use it for counseling as well.

It's very kind of you to offer financial help; clearly you care about your friend.  But you can offer something even better--follow up on some of these referrals yourself by phone or in person.  The devil is in the details.  Some "anxiety support" groups are actually for substance abuse or the severely mentally ill, etc.. It's so discouraging to spend time looking for help, only to learn that you've hit a dead end.  You can help your friend by doing some of the research (for example, finding the psychology or education department that has counseling students needing hours). 

I wish you both the best of luck.

In addition to the resources listed, there is:
The Psychotherapy Institute

Open Path Psychotherapy Collective

My friend who overcame her panic attacks and anxiety recommended the book - DARE by Barry Mcdonagh to me. She is doing SO MUCH better and so am I. I still have setbacks because I forget and get caught up in the moment, but I'm able to recover much quicker when I do get caught up. I had already heard some of his recommendations from other experts, but there is something about the way Mcdonagh writes about how to approach panic and anxiety that makes it easy for me to relate to. He has a Facebook support site and a couple apps with audio that I've found helpful. He also has a membership thing that I haven't taken advantage of. You are so nice to be doing this for your friend and I wish him well.

Original poster here. My friend went to Sausal Creek, one of the suggestions posted here. It isn’t fancy by any means, but assessment and follow-up was at least as comprehensive and attentive as any private resource. What an amazing place. And to think he never would have known about it if it weren’t for this community.  He got the medication he needed that same day and felt much better within 24 hours.  Thank you all so much for your help. I’ll be sure to share with anyone who can benefit.