Rising unemployment rates, falling home values and battered retirement portfolios can take a toll on our mental health as well as our finances. Difficult economic times exacerbate depression, anxiety and other emotional problems.

Psychotherapy can help us cope with emotional and psychological issues. The trouble is that the same economic problems that are causing anxiety and depression also are making it difficult for people to afford the rates charged by professional therapists, which often exceed $100 per hour.

Health insurance can help pay therapists' bills, but not all policies provide extensive Coverage for counseling and employees who lose their jobs in this recession typically lose their health insurance as well.

How to find high-quality counseling that's affordable…

Sliding Scale Fees

Some therapists reduce their hourly fees for clients who cannot afford to pay the full amount. Call therapists recommended by your doctor or family and friends. Explain why you are seeking therapy...be upfront about your limited financial resources...and ask if they will charge on a sliding scale.

If a therapist says yes, ask for details about the sliding scale policy to make sure that your bills will be manageable-some sliding scales slide much further down than others. If the therapist doesn't have a sliding scale, ask if he knows a local therapist who does.

Group Therapy

Ask local therapists if they offer group therapy appropriate for your needs. Five to 10 patients typically meet with the therapist at one time. That allows the therapist to charge each patient significantly less.

If a therapist does not offer relevant group therapy, ask if he/she can recommend someone who does.

Community Mental Health Agencies

Many regions have community mental health organizations run by either the county or city government or a nonprofit organization. These agencies often provide low-cost counseling for perhaps $5 to $50 per hour. If your local mental health agencies do not provide low-cost counseling, they might be able to refer you to area counselors who do.

To find resources in your community, check your local Yellow Pages under the heading "Mental Health." You also can search for organizations in your area at the Web site of the nonprofit group Mental Health America (www. nmba.org, under "Help" select "Find treatment" then "Mental Health America affiliate"). Or contact my organization, the National Mental Health Consumers' Self-Help Clearinghouse (800-5534539, www.mhselfhelp.org).

Employee Assistance Programs

Your employer might provide free or low-cost access to local therapists through an employee assistance program." These programs sometimes are available even to members of employees' immediate families. Ask your employer's benefits coordinator if such a program exists at your company.

Therapy provided through an employee assistance program typically is covered by the employee's health insurance or paid for by the employer. At the very least, the employer likely has negotiated a below-market therapy rate.

Participation in employee assistance programs normally is confidential, so the employer does not know which employees seek therapy.

Religious Leaders

Some ministers, priests, rabbis and other community religious leaders have master's degrees or even doctorates in counseling and extensive counseling experience. Contact your church or other area religious organizations to see if a pastoral counselor is available.

Pastoral counselors typically charge lower rates than other therapists with comparable levels of experience. Some waive their fees entirely for patients with limited financial resources. This varies, however, so ask about fees before arranging an appointment.

If your house of worship does not have a counselor, it might be able to refer you to other local religious organizations that do or to private counselors in the region who charge on a sliding scale.

Local Universities

Universities that have schools of psychology, counseling or social work sometimes offer inexpensive therapy to members of the public. The therapy typically is provided by graduate students who need experience to earn counseling degrees or licenses. They probably are new to the field, but their efforts will be overseen by qualified professors.

Contact the school of counseling or social work at any local university and ask if there is a program providing low-cost counseling to the public. If not, the school might be able to refer you to inexpensive therapists in the region, such as recent graduates.

Help Hotlines And “Warm” Lines

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) offers free counseling over the phone, 24 hours a day, for people in severe emotional distress and suicidal crisis.

Some local mental health organizations offer "warm lines," which are like hotlines, only they provide non-emergency phone counseling. These call centers typically are staffed by volunteers, not by professional counselors, but they are a useful free option for those who need someone to talk to.

Ask your county's mental health agency if there are any relevant warm lines in your region ...or type "warm line," the name of your state and the name of your condition (such as "depression" or "addiction") or symptoms into a search engine such as Google to see what comes up.

Self-Help Support Groups

Support groups let participants meet with others who are facing similar psychological or emotional issues. There usually is no professional therapist present, but the groups are free and can be helpful.

Ask local churches or the social work departments of area hospitals if there are support groups in the region for people coping with your particular issue. If this is not helpful, use Google to search for a national nonprofit organization that deals with your condition, then contact this organization to see if someone there can point you to support groups in your region.

Example: The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance has a network of more than 1,000 peer-run support groups. It also offers online support groups. (Call 800-826-3632, or go to www.dbsalliance.org, select "Find Support," then "Find a support group near you.")

Help With Psychiatric Drug Costs

Most major pharmaceutical companies have "patient assistance programs that provide their prescription drugs—including psychiatric drugs-for free or at greatly reduced costs. Only patients who have no health insurance and very limited financial resources are likely to qualify.

The Web site of the Partnership for Prescription Assistance, an organization sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry, can help you determine whether you are eligible (888-477-2669, www.pparx.org)

Or contact the pharmaceutical company directly to inquire about its patience assistance programs. The Web site of the National Alliance on Mental Illness lists the applicable 800 numbers for many commonly prescribed psychiatric drugs. Call 800-950-6264, or go to www. nami.org, under "Inform Yourself select "About Medication," then "Prescription Drug Assistance Program.")

Ease Anxiety with Prayer

Anxiety disorders are three times more common among women who were once religiously active but later stopped attending worship services than among women who have always been religiously active, Women's mental health may be tied closely to social networks—including ones built at a house of worship.

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