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Help for your mental health

Does therapy feel too indulgent – or maybe too expensive? Here's how to get assistance when you're feeling under pressure.

Jen Weigel

January 19, 2012

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What do you do if you need mental health support but you don't have money for a psychologist? Or maybe you feel your issue is not worth a full course of psychotherapy. Can you really find legitimate help that won't break the bank or take years to complete?

"If a person feels they need treatment, usually that signals some type of crisis," said Nina Riccardi, a therapist for Cathedral Counseling Center in Chicago. "If they're feeling at risk of self-injury they should contact their nearest emergency room immediately. But if their crisis is not something on that scale, there are several options to consider."

Riccardi said most employers offer free counseling assistance, so check with your company's human resources department.

"You should ask about the Employee Assistance Program, or EAP," she said. "There is most likely a hotline available, and often they'll offer a six-session opportunity to talk about where you are and then you're referred to someone else after those six sessions. These are all with trained clinicians."

If you'd rather not speak to someone, there's always the Internet.

"There are several resources online that could be helpful for people who can't pay for hours of therapy," said integrative psychology expert Matthew B. James. "YouTube has recently been flooded with self-help videos. But it's really important to make sure the person you're watching is credentialed. Look for credibility. Do they have a graduate-level degree? 20-plus years in the field? From that perspective you can get amazing content."

And while many think of the YMCA as a place to work out or swim, it could also be a source for mental health assistance.

"Each community has different resources available, and we act as a conduit to put it all together for people," said Chris Coker, president and CEO of the Boulder Valley YMCA in Colorado.

Coker said services vary at each YMCA based on the needs of the community, but that the staff should direct you to the closest facility that can help. Check http://www.YMCA.net for one in your neighborhood.

Here are some other tips to find the help you need.

Your local church

"In my experience a church will welcome those in need, regardless of whether you are a member of the congregation," James said.

The National Alliance of Mental Illness

"They provide a database of low-cost or no-cost treatment options and groups," Riccardi said. Contact: 312-563-0445 or http://www.nami.org.

Grief support groups at Northwestern Memorial Hospital

"This can be helpful for those who have suffered a loss," Riccardi said. "There is a pre-screening required." Contact 312-926-4600 or find more resources at http://www.nmh.org/nm/health-references-dying-death-bereavement.

Self-help websites

"Any teacher or author that you are drawn to may have a blog or a website with helpful information," James said. He also recommended the Learning Annex (www.learningannex.com), where classes on a variety of topics start at 99 cents.

For more urgent crises, Riccardi suggested the following hotlines:

Child Abuse Hotline

"If someone feels a child is at risk of endangerment, an investigator will be sent within 24 hours," she said. Contact 800-252-2873.

Alcoholics Anonymous

"For support around sobriety through referrals to Chicago area groups," she said. Contact 312-346-1475 or http://www.aa.org.

Department on Aging Hotline

"This is for someone who believes an older adult is being harmed emotionally or physically or exploited financially," she said. "Investigators will also be dispatched within 24 hours." Contact 866-800-1409.

The National Suicide Hotline

"This hotline routes crisis calls to local support," she said. Contact 800-784-2433.

Maryville Crisis Nursery

"For anybody who can't care for their kids, they offer a three-day stay for children under the age of 3, no questions asked for the parents," Riccardi said. Contact 773-205-3637 or http://www.maryvilleacademy.org/subpages.asp?id=33.

jweigel@tribune.com

Twitter: @jenweigel