Updated on 09/18/23

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), nearly half of the 60 million people in the United States affected by mental health conditions do not receive treatment for their conditions. Lack of access is one of the main reasons for this, including the fact that many mental health providers are considered out-of-network with many health insurance plans. Out-of-pocket expenses can be very costly, making it unrealistic for many people to afford these services.

Along with high costs, location of mental health treatment centers can be a barrier for those living in rural areas. Mental health providers can be difficult to find, and once found they may have long wait lists for scheduling new patients.

So what can individuals do while they navigate this search for mental health care? One of the benefits of living in today’s age of technology is that we have increased access to immediately available mental health resources through virtual and online outlets, including services such as support groups, mobile apps and helplines.

Online Mental Health Support Groups

Finding the right support group can be immensely helpful in supporting mental health by decreasing feelings of loneliness, providing a safe space to discuss feelings openly, receiving feedback and discovering new resources from other members.

Here are a few online support groups that may be used to support mental health:

  • TheTribe – This online platform allows individuals with anxiety to come together virtually for peer-to-peer support. The site offers forums, chat rooms and various wellness tools for members to use.
  • ADAA Online Support Group – The Anxiety and Depression Association of America provides an online support group for members to connect with each other and share experiences and information.
  • Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) – The DBSA offers online support groups for a variety of individuals, including separate groups for young adults, veterans, seniors, and family members.
  • Discovery Mood & Anxiety Program (DMA) Support Groups – These free online support groups are for anyone who has been impacted by an eating disorder or mental health disorder, providing support for people in treatment, thinking about treatment, family members and alumni.

Mobile Apps for Mental Health

Accessibility is one of the biggest barriers to mental health treatment. With the widespread popularity of smartphones, the development of mental health apps has become a valuable resource for those who otherwise would struggle to find support. Here are a few well-rated apps for a variety of mental health conditions:

  • Headspace: This app is designed to teach meditation practices to those who are struggling with anxiety or stress. The app reports that with a few minutes of practice each day, people can improve their skills in both meditation and mindfulness. In addition to anxiety, it has also been shown helpful for those with OCD, depression and PTSD.
  • MindShift CBT: MindShift uses cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques to teach users how to manage different types of anxiety, including social anxiety, generalized anxiety disorder and panic attacks. It offers a variety of different coping techniques and skills that users can practice independently.
  • PTSD Coach: Here users with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can learn about their condition, go through a self-assessment for PTSD, find professional help and discover tools that can be implemented in daily life to help manage their symptoms. For individuals without a smartphone, there is an online web-based version of PTSD Coach that may be helpful.
  • Breathe2Relax: This app focuses on teaching its users simple mindful breathing techniques that may be used to manage symptoms of anxiety, stress and PTSD. It can be used independently or as a guide in sessions with a therapist.

At DMA, family of alumni members are invited to an app that provides 24/7 support, tracking capabilities about special milestones, as well as access to videos, podcasts and other helpful resources.

Crisis Helplines are Just a Text Away

While not technically considered an online resource, helplines can be a huge resource for those who are looking for support. Text helplines have emerged as a new way for people to reach out when they need help and may be a good option for those who are uncomfortable with communicating over the phone or in-person. Texting is available to those with or without a smartphone, so access to this resource is readily available for most people in the U.S. Here are a few helplines that receive and respond to texts for mental health support:

  • TrevorText: Part of The Trevor Project, TrevorText is a text helpline dedicated to supporting LGBTQ youth who are in crisis, experiencing suicidal thoughts or need a safe space to talk about any issue they may be having.
  • Crisis Text Line: This helpline is open for people of all ages who are experiencing a crisis. They will receive responses from a crisis counselor who is able to support them through their text exchange and may even make a referral for outside professional support if necessary.
  • YouthLine: Available for adolescents and young adults aged 11 to 21, YouthLine provides support for a variety of mental health conditions including depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, eating disorders and family/relationship issues.

Online and virtual resources are accessible, low-to-no cost for users and provide crucial services for those requiring mental health support. While they don’t replace individual therapy or care from a mental health professional, they can be used as a steppingstone in treatment to provide support for individuals who are awaiting access to care or looking for a place to start. If you or someone you love is in need of mental health treatment, DMA is here to help.

Madeline Radigan is a registered dietitian who works with adolescents in mental health residential treatment. She is passionate about advocating for weight inclusivity and a non-diet approach to help people heal their relationships with food and their bodies. In her free time, she enjoys being outdoors and spending time on trails with her family. You can find more of Madeline’s thoughts and work at radnutrition.net or on Instagram at @mradnutrition.

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