Why is MoneySense sharing a list of free and low-cost mental health services? Many Canadians are struggling to afford the cost of treatment, even those who have health benefits from their employer. Your mental wellness can affect your overall health, career, personal relationships and finances—so knowing where to go for help is key. Here are many ways to access free or low-cost mental health resources in Canada.
Free mental health resources in Canada
- Crisis lines, distress centres and local resources: The Government of Canada maintains a webpage of links to crisis hotlines and distress centres, as well as mental health and addictions services in each province and territory.
- Wellness Together Canada: This portal, created during the COVID-19 pandemic with funding from the Government of Canada, provides free, confidential online and phone support for mental health and substance use. It offers a peer support phone line and telephone counselling from therapists. You can also access online forums and support groups to connect with others facing similar issues, as well as online tools and programs that help you work through anxiety and other challenges on your own. For urgent crisis support, text WELLNESS to 741741 (for adults) or text CONNECT to 686868 (for youth).
- BounceBack is a self-guided online program, created by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) to empower adults and teens (15 and older) with the skills to manage low mood, mild to moderate depression, anxiety, stress and worry.
- Kids Help Phone offers young people confidential support hotlines (phone, text and chat) with professional counsellors. (If you’re an adult, Kids Help Phone will help connect you with the appropriate resources.)
- Free mental health apps: If you’d like to access mental health support on your phone or tablet, some free options are MindShift CBT (for anxiety), Healthy Minds (skills for mental well-being) and PocketWell (a companion app for the Wellness Together Canada portal).
- Community supports: Check your provincial or territorial government’s website or a branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) for mental health and/or addictions services. There may be free community support groups or drop-in counselling services in your area.
- Health insurance: If you or an immediate family member has a health insurance plan through an employee benefit program or purchased privately, you may be fully or partially covered for paramedical services like psychotherapy and any medications you are prescribed. Keep in mind, though, that some plans offer lump sum coverage for therapy. To see how many sessions it covers, divide the lump sum by your therapist’s cost per session (fees range from $120 to $225—more details below).
- Employee Assistance Programs (EAP): Workplace EAPs usually offer confidential counselling services to employees at no cost. These programs vary widely; contact your EAP or visit its website to see the options for mental health or financial counselling.
- innoviCares: This prescription savings card can help reduce the cost of certain brand-name prescription medications in Canada, whether or not you have medical insurance. The program is funded by pharmaceutical companies.
Low-cost mental health resources in Canada
- TELUS Health MyCare: This app connects users with general practitioners (family doctors) for video consultations. These virtual visits are free, since they’re covered by provincial health plans. For a fee, you can also meet with a counsellor, clinical psychologist or dietitian via the app. (If you have health insurance, it may reimburse you.)
- Maple: This platform connects people who don’t have a family doctor to a Canadian-licensed doctor online, 24/7, for $30 monthly (for up to 30 visits a year) or $69 (or more) for a single visit. Maple also has specialists—including psychotherapists, psychologists, mental health physicians and sleep therapists (availability and fees vary by province/territory).
The state of mental health in Canada
The need for mental health services has soared during the pandemic and its resulting economic fallout: high inflation, high interest rates, job losses and mounting debt. This sampling of recent surveys and studies paints a picture of our collective mental well-being:
Mental health in Canada
- About a third of Canadians say their mental health (32%), physical health (30%) and financial situation (34%) have worsened in the past two years, a survey by Environics Research has found.
- One in five Canadians is likely to have symptoms of moderate to severe depression, and one in seven is likely to have symptoms of moderate to severe anxiety, according to a poll by Mental Health Research Canada (MHRC) conducted in late January and early February 2023. Half of respondents (49%) say that rising inflation and financial insecurity have had a negative impact on their mental health.
- Between 2019 and 2021, mental health drug claims for Canadians aged 30 and under increased by 24%, and mental health paramedical claims for Canadians under age 35 increased by 51%, says Sun Life.
The challenges of accessing mental health care in Canada
The demand for mental health support is there, but it can be challenging for people to access care in a timely way. One in five Canadians doesn’t have a family doctor, according to a study by the Angus Reid Institute. Even among those who do, one in three (33%) say they have to wait over a week to see their primary physician.
I talked to Ed Mantler, senior vice president and chief program officer of the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC), about some of the barriers to accessing mental health resources in Canada. “We tend to hear that there are long wait lists for publicly funded services, and there are financial barriers to accessing other services,” says Mantler.
For those who have health insurance, it may only cover a few therapy sessions at a private clinic. The MHRC survey found that 29% of Canadians who paid for part or all of their mental health treatment out-of-pocket in the last year did so because their health insurance benefits ran out; 27% said that their benefits wouldn’t cover the treatment they accessed; and a quarter had no benefits at all.
How much does therapy cost in Canada?
The cost of private therapy depends on the type of health professional, but it can range from $120 to $225 per session. That can really add up, if your health insurance runs out or you don’t have coverage. At $120 per session once a week, for example, the monthly cost of therapy amounts to $480. (Read about different types of therapists.)
Some therapists may offer a free or discounted initial session and/or a “sliding scale” for fees based on financial needs. If you let the clinic know that your insurance coverage is limited to a certain number of sessions, or that you have no insurance at all, they may offer a discount. If you’re getting a referral from your family doctor, be upfront about your financial circumstances so they can point you to free or affordable services from the start.
The alternative is to access free, government-funded mental health services. However, this may mean sitting on a waitlist. Even before the pandemic, half of Canadians waited up to a month for ongoing counselling services, and one in 10 waited longer than four months, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI).