Understanding and accessing behavioral healthcare
We all experience mental health challenges, such as stress, anxiety, uncertainty, sadness or grief. When these responses and moods last for a long time and affect you or your child’s ability to function at home, work, or school, it may be time to seek professional care.
Click through the questions below to learn more about how and when to seek professional mental healthcare. To find information about how you can use your health insurance coverage, including Child Health Plus, Essential Plan, Medicaid, Medicare, Qualified Health Plan, TRICARE, and VA Health care, to access mental health and substance misuse services, visit the Human Resource Administration’s Office of Citywide Health Insurance Access (OCHIA) webpage.
Not insured? NYC Care guarantees low-cost and no-cost services to New Yorkers who do not qualify for or cannot afford health insurance. New Yorkers who do not qualify for or cannot afford health insurance can click here to enroll in NYC Care or call 646-NYC-Care (646-692-2273).
Behavioral healthcare includes treatment and rehabilitation services for mental health issues and substance use disorders. Behavioral health issues can affect how you handle stress, relate to others, and make choices; if you are experiencing a behavioral health issue, you may notice changes in your thinking, behavior or mood. Learn more about warning signs and specific behavioral health issues here.
Behavioral health issues are common and can affect all of us directly or indirectly. They affect people of all ages, genders, races and ethnicities. Help is available, and this guide can help you connect to it.
We all experience mental health challenges, such as stress, anxiety, uncertainty, sadness or grief. However, when these responses and moods last for a long time and affect your ability to function at home, work, or school, hamper your ability to relate to friends, or cause distress, it may be time to seek professional care.
For more information, the Do I Need Help Guide from the National Institute of Mental Health can help you identify when to reach out for professional help.
There are many types of healthcare professionals who offer support for a range of behavioral health issues, including serious mental illness, family conflict, substance use disorders, bereavement and other issues that affect your health and wellbeing.
Behavioral healthcare may be provided, for example, by social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, pastoral counselors, primary care physicians, psychiatric nurses, or certified peer counselors who are trained and have firsthand experience with mental health issues. You might find behavioral healthcare professionals working in hospitals or psychiatric facilities, community-based organizations, neighborhood mental health clinics, school campuses, senior centers, or private practices.
NYC Well is a confidential helpline that can connect you to ongoing mental health and substance misuse services. Trained counselors can provide you with free support 24 hours a day, as well as referrals and warm transfers to other services:
CALL: 1-888-NYC-Well (692-9355),
TEXT: “Well” to 65173,
or CHAT ONLINE at nyc.gov/nycwell.
NYC Well is available to everyone, in 200+ languages, regardless of ability to pay, immigration status, gender identity, disability, or national origin. NYC Well can connect you to culturally, linguistically appropriate services in your neighborhood. To explore a comprehensive list of behavioral health providers in New York City, visit the NYC Well directory.
When you call a provider to make your first appointment for yourself and/or your child, ask the provider if they:
- Accept your insurance?
- Have openings to take on new clients?
- Have experience treating the kind of mental health or substance use issues you are seeking help for?
- Have experience working with people representing your culture, life experiences, sexual identity or other issues that may be important to you?
- Provide services on days and at times that meet your needs?
- Speak your language of choice? If not, do they have access to a professional interpreter? If services will be provided through an interpreter, consider if you are comfortable communicating in this way
- Provide accommodation for any mobility or other disability issues you may have?
- Offer remote treatment as needed?
- Require you to bring any medical reports or complete any paperwork prior to the first appointment?
For additional questions, visit Mental Health America's checklist.
The first appointment with your provider lays the foundation for your ongoing path to healing. The provider will begin the process of getting to know your behavioral healthcare needs.
According to the American Psychological Association, as part of the first appointment, the provider may spend time:
- Understanding what you are currently going through, and your reasons for seeking care
- Learning about you, your family, and your life experiences
- Learning about things that are important to you such as your faith, culture, values, etc.
- Identifying the many factors that may be causing or contributing to what you are experiencing
- Understanding what you expect from your treatment
- Creating a care plan that meets your needs and with which you are comfortable
After your appointment, it's important to stay on the road to wellness with the following steps:
- Schedule the next appointment at the end of your first one.
- Make sure that the appointments are made on days and times that work for you.
- Spend time in between appointments following any suggestions given to you by the provider.
- Tell the provider if your behavior or thoughts change in between appointments.
- Talk to the provider if you have any concerns about your medications before you or your child choose to stop taking them.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness suggests that after your first visit, you take a moment to think about your experience. Ask yourself if you felt comfortable with the provider and whether the provider included your thoughts and concerns in creating your treatment plan. It is important that you feel you can trust your provider and share your issues and concerns freely with them. Remember, if you did not feel heard or supported, you can call your health plan or go to their website to choose a different provider who accepts your coverage.
Any New Yorker can get behavioral healthcare – even if you don’t have insurance right now. The following service provider networks offer access to care without having health insurance:
1. NYC Health + Hospitals
NYC Health + Hospitals (H+H) is the City’s public healthcare system. H+H public hospitals and neighborhood health centers offer many types of excellent mental health services to help you with mental illness of all kinds. Examples of care you can get from H+H include wellness teams or mental health counselors in every borough, and mental health services including:
- Mental healthcare for children, adolescents and adults
- Emergency psychiatric services, to stabilize or treat psychiatric crises at psychiatric emergency rooms;
- Services to help with substance misuse and dependence issues
MetroPlusHealth offers low-cost to no-cost health insurance coverage to eligible people living in New York City. For New Yorkers living in the five boroughs who do not qualify for or cannot afford health insurance, H+H offers NYC Care, a program that lets you get services for free or low cost, regardless of immigration status. All NYC Care services are provided at H+H facilities in the five boroughs. When you join NYC Care, you can choose your own doctor, get a unique membership card to use health services, and get affordable medications when you need them.
- To enroll in NYC Care:
Connect to the NYC Care Contact Center to learn more and make an appointment at a clinic near you. You will be assigned to a primary care provider, who will help you access the right care for your needs and help you make an appointment at a H+H behavioral health clinic if you need additional services. The agents at the contact center will help you connect to a financial counselor to make sure your care will be affordable.
- Call the NYC Care Contact Center at 1-646-NYC-CARE (1-646-692-2273) or visit www.nyccare.nyc to learn more and see if you are eligible
- Once you are enrolled in NYC Care:
Make an appointment with your primary care provider to discuss your behavioral health. Your primary care provider will help you access the right care for your needs, which may include referring you to a specialist, such as a social worker, a therapist, or a psychiatrist.
- Call your primary care provider at the number listed on your NYC Care card to make an appointment.
- For urgent services, the NYC Care Contact Center can make same-day appointments or direct you to a Health + Hospitals Express Care center near you.
2. Community Health Centers
Community Health Centers are community-based and patient-directed organizations where you can receive comprehensive, culturally competent, high-quality primary health care services. Many community health centers can provide you care regardless of immigration status or ability to pay. They also often provide behavioral health, pharmacy, and oral health services in places where economic, geographic, or cultural barriers make it difficult to get affordable health care services.
- Locate and connect to a Community Health Center providing low-cost or no-cost behavioral health services here.
3. NYC Well
NYC Well is New York City’s free, comprehensive mental health helpline. NYC Well counselors are available 24/7 and could help you or someone you know to get access to mental health and substance misuse services, in more than 200 languages.
NYC Well’s counselors and peer specialists are trained to listen to you and can provide short-term counseling and connection to ongoing support.
- Call NYC Well at 1-888-NYC-WELL (1-888-692-9355)
- Text “WELL” to 65173
- Visit NYC Well’s Find Services Page and use the provider directory and search for “Free” or “Sliding Scale” services
You may find behavioral healthcare in multiple languages using the following services:
1. NYC Well
You can speak to a counselor in more than 200 languages through NYC Well.
Call NYC Well at 1-888-NYC-WELL (1-888-692-9355)
- For Relay Service for Deaf/Hard of Hearing: Call 711
- Español: Press 3
- 中文: Press 5
Interpreters are available for 200+ languages. Stay on the line, and you will be connected with a counselor who can connect you to translator services. NYC Well Counselors are trained to accept calls from deaf and hard of hearing individuals using video relay services.
2. NYC Health + Hospitals
NYC Health + Hospitals offers free interpreters who speak your language. Documents are translated in several languages to ensure patients understand their medical needs and their care. Learn more about H+H’s language services here.
3. Community Health Advocates
Community Health Advocates can help you sign up for health coverage, use your coverage, fight a denial, or resolve a medical bill. Advocates are located across New York City and can help answer your healthcare questions in English, Spanish, Russian, Cantonese, Mandarin, Haitian Creole, Bengali, and Korean.
NYC Health + Hospitals is committed to empowering Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) New Yorkers to live the healthiest life possible.
If you need urgent sexual or reproductive services, LGBTQ affirming care, or mental health support, Pride Health Centers can help. Pride Health Centers provide a range of services for LGBTQ New Yorkers.
NYC Health + Hospitals has six Pride Health Centers in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx.
Plans in New York State are required to treat your need for behavioral health services similarly to your need for medical services. According to the New York State Office of Mental Health, the insurance provider cannot require you to go through additional steps or hurdles to access behavioral healthcare. This is called “mental health parity.” This means that rules about copayments, number of visits, and pre-authorizations should be the same whether you are accessing behavioral or physical health services. Learn more at the New York State Office of Mental Health's website.