How to Get Free or Low-Cost Depression Treatment

Woman talking in group therapy session
HRAUN / Getty Images

If you've been diagnosed with clinical depression, you may be relieved to learn what's been causing your symptoms and that there are many medications and other treatments available for them. At the same time, you may be worried you won't be able to afford the drugs or therapy that can help you. Sometimes insurance plans aren't very generous about treating mental health conditions, and if you don't have insurance at all, then paying out of pocket for a medication like Prozac, or even its generic form (fluoxetine), may be a reach for you.

There are ways to get around these challenges, though, by working with your doctor or pharmacist and by being open to avenues of depression treatment other than antidepressants.

Depression Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide to help you ask the right questions at your next doctor's appointment.

Mind Doc Guide

Split Pills

It's sometimes less expensive to buy a medication in a higher dose than the one you've been prescribed. If that drug comes in a form that can physically be split in half, it may be worth it to ask your doctor if this is an option for you. For example, if they want you to take 20 milligrams (mg) of Prozac each day and 40-mg versions of this drug are cheaper, they could write a prescription for the larger dose pill. You can then split each of those in half.

Find Meds for Free

Pharmaceutical companies often give doctors samples of drugs. Ask your doctor if he has any samples of your medication. Even a few freebies once in a while can lower the overall cost of your treatment. However, make sure the freebies are the same kind of drug as the one you are currently taking, as antidepressant brands aren't necessarily interchangeable.

You also may be eligible for free medications through organizations and other programs designed to help people struggling to afford health care, such as Needy Meds, a nonprofit "providing information on healthcare programs, offering direct assistance, and facilitating programs."

Explore Alternatives

Herbal remedies and nutraceuticals for treating depression are inexpensive, and you don't need a prescription to get them. Below are a few of the most common ones that some people use for depression, and also for other problems that often go along with depression.

But before you run out and stock up on any of these, talk to your doctor. Just because something is labeled "natural" doesn't mean it can't have serious side effects. It's also worth noting that research on the efficacy of herbal remedies is inconclusive, and often fails to make a strong case for efficacy.

  • Evening primrose oil (for premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder, or PMDD)
  • 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), an amino acid that is believed to convert tryptophan into both serotonin, a neurotransmitter, and the sleep hormone melatonin (for depression)
  • Vitamins and minerals (for depression)
  • Kava Kava (for anxiety)
  • Valerian (for anxiety and sleep)
  • Melatonin (for sleep)

Try Therapy

Psychotherapy can be effective—and expensive, but some providers have sliding-scale fees. Based on your income, the provider will reduce his or her fees. Or you may be able to negotiate a payment plan with a therapist or a lower rate according to what your insurance plan pays. Find out what your town has to offer by way of counseling as well. Many have community mental health centers (CMHCs) that offer a range of treatment and counseling services, usually at a reduced rate for low-income people. CMHCs generally require you to have private insurance or to get some form of public assistance. The National Council for Behavioral Health is a great source for this type of help.

Consider a Clergyman

If you belong to a church or synagogue, a staff member there may be able to put you in touch with a pastoral counseling program. Certified pastoral counselors, who are ministers in a recognized religious body, have advanced degrees in pastoral counseling, as well as professional counseling experience. Pastoral counseling is often provided on a sliding-scale fee. You can learn more from the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education website. 

Seek Support 

Self-help and support groups allow people to talk about and work together on common problems such as alcoholism, substance abuse, depression, family issues, and relationships. Usually, self-help groups are free. Sources for finding a group near you include the National Mental Health Self-Help Clearinghouse.

Go Public

You may be eligible for public assistance to pay for your mental health care through such programs as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

Clinical Trials

Many research programs for new medications will provide free treatment for participants. One downside is the risk of getting a placebo or an unproven treatment, so make sure your doctor is on board if you're interested in being part of a clinical trial.

If you or a loved one are struggling with depression, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). What to Do If You're Denied Care By Your Insurance.

  2. TeensHealth from Nemours. Finding Low-Cost Mental Health Care.

  3. NeedyMeds. NeedyMeds' Mission Statement.

By Nancy Schimelpfening
Nancy Schimelpfening, MS is the administrator for the non-profit depression support group Depression Sanctuary. Nancy has a lifetime of experience with depression, experiencing firsthand how devastating this illness can be.