Illustrations By June Anderson

Low-cost—or free!—mental health services in Toronto and the GTA

A guide to finding affordable counselling and other mental health resources in your neighbourhood

One in five Canadians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association. And while most people know that counselling can help in times of crisis, many face financial barriers to getting that professional help. Costs can run as high as—even much higher than—$150 per 50-minute session, and that can quickly eat into a health insurance plan—if you’re fortunate enough to even have one.

Thankfully, there are free and low-cost options out there to help get people through a crisis. These therapies take a variety of forms and are often offered in tandem with other services that support mental health in the long term. Here are six places to start getting help right now.

Talk without an appointment

Tangerine Walk-In Counselling helps kids, youth and their families in Brampton and at two Mississauga locations. At a (free) two-hour session, a professional counsellor will talk drop-in clients through their concerns and anxieties. They’ll then consult with colleagues for a broader perspective before returning to make a plan, tailored to the strengths of each client, for moving forward from a stressful situation. When longer-term mental health supports are needed, the counsellors will direct clients to the best followup services in the region.

Stylized illustration of hand on blue background painting yellow flowers

Use art to access emotions

Expressive arts therapy is a powerful tool for self-expression, helping people manage emotions, process past events and make changes in their lives. At Cabbagetown’s The Create Clinic, senior-level student therapists provide $40 expressive arts therapy sessions to help clients work through their challenges. Artistic experience and talent are not required—clients need only to be willing to create, play, and work with art-, music- and drama-based approaches to bring about change in their lives.

Don’t judge a book(store) by its cover

Hard Feelings looks like a bookstore from the outside, with its carefully curated mental health titles, journals and self-care items displayed in the large windows and on the shelves. But beyond the bright storefront space, there are low-cost counselling offices, which are supported by the shop’s sales. This innovative, non-profit Bloor and Ossington practice is a social enterprise, where clients can access mental health supports from a private practitioner for 10 to 12 sessions. Costs are calculated on a sliding scale, and range from $50 to $80 per 50- to 60-minute session for individuals, or $80 to $100 per session for families and couples.

Find help for the whole family

Kids, youth and their caregivers can simply show up at the Skylark “What’s Up?” Walk-in Clinic for a free counselling session—no health card or appointment required. Located in the heart of Toronto’s Gay Village, Skylark is a United Way–funded agency that also offers ongoing supports to the LGBTQ+ community—particularly tweens, teens and young adults, who can also benefit from drop-in peer support sessions at The Studio. Parents seeking guidance around understanding and supporting their child’s gender expression and identity can also meet for free with a counsellor at Skylark, as can the siblings of a child or youth with mental illness or special needs.

Illustration of person with blue hair and purple shirt seen from behind with many colourful envelopes flowing off a monitor

Work through problems on your own time

Traditionally, therapy involves face-to-face contact with a counsellor at scheduled appointment times. Yet research now shows that online counselling, via e-mail, can be equally effective. Some people find it less intimidating to express themselves from behind a screen, with a protective layer of anonymity. (They may also appreciate the extra time to formulate their thoughts in writing.) And, of course, online counselling is more flexible, since it can be slotted into your day whenever you have time to sit down in peace at your computer, even if you’re travelling far from home. Family Services York Region, an agency supported by United Way, now offers online counselling at subsidized prices for youth aged 14 to 18, and at the comparatively low cost of $65 per hour (of the counsellor’s time) for adult clients.

Get moving to boost mental wellness

At Moss Park’s MLSE Launchpad, physical activity is at the heart of its mental well-being programs. Youth and young adults can register for free membership to develop themselves in the areas of body, mind, school and work. This gives them access to activities like calming yoga, tension-releasing basketball and a program that improves social and communication skills through circus arts. And most importantly, twice a week, there is a free drop-in counselling program for young people aged 6 to 29 and their families.

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