Can’t afford therapy? Try these mental health care alternatives


To paraphrase the immortal words of RuPaul — if you can’t love yourself, how are you going to love somebody else?

Searches for “self-love” spike every February, according to the Google Trends newsletter, and searches for “self-care” have reached an all-time high this month.

Self-care can look like indulging or pampering. If you want to celebrate yourself with a bubble bath or a massage, go for it.

But self-care can also look like taking care of your mental health.

Therapy is great, but it’s usually pricey. And it can be challenging to navigate the process of finding a therapist who’s accepting new clients and takes your insurance when you’re already dealing with mental health challenges.

So here are some ways to improve your mental health that cost less than an out-of-pocket doctor visit.

Meditate, journal, read

Yes, “have you tried meditation and journaling” is practically a cliche at this point. But there’s a reason people keep suggesting it: It’s free, easy to start doing and backed by evidence that it works.

Meditate. Even just a few minutes of closing your eyes and taking deep breaths can be beneficial. The app Headspace is free for L.A. County residents (and has 14-day free trials for everyone else). Calm and the Peloton app offer guided meditations to paid subscribers after a free trial. The Insight Timer, Mindfulness Coach and Healthy Minds Program apps are all highly rated and free. You can also find free guided meditations on Spotify and YouTube.

Journal. Writing down your thoughts and feelings is a powerful way to ground yourself and get in touch with your emotions. Like meditating, there are tons of free ways to start journaling right this minute. Apps like Day One offer free journaling on your phone if you’re not a pen-and-paper person.

Read. Bibliotherapy is its own sub-discipline of therapy. But you don’t necessarily need a licensed bibliotherapist to tell you where to start. Some popular titles: “Wherever You Go, There You Are” by Jon Kabat-Zinn, “The Feeling Good Handbook” by David Burns, “The Courage to Heal” by Ellen Bass, “Overcoming Depression” by Lawrence Shapiro.

LOS ANGELES-CA-AUGUST 21, 2019: Above the Fold newsstand in Larchmont Village on Thursday, August 21, 2019. (Christina House / Los Angeles Times)


Get outside

The sun is an underrated mental health resource. Getting outside is good for your brain as well as your body.

Call a hotline or warmline

Hotlines and warm-lines offer general support as well as specific help for LGBTQ+ people, people of color, people who’ve experienced abuse or sexual violence, teens, veterans, and other groups. Hotlines are typically for people experiencing a crisis. Warmlines let you chat or vent about anything that’s on your mind.

If you are currently experiencing a mental health crisis, there are free phone- and text-based ways to get help. The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is available by dialing 988. It is available for Spanish speakers at (888) 628-9454 and for deaf or hard of hearing people online (or via TTY). If you can’t or don’t want to talk with someone on the phone, the Crisis Text Line has crisis counselors available via text (send “HOME” to 741741) and via WhatsApp.


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