Understanding and accessing behavioral healthcare

We all can experience mental health challenges in our lives. If natural responses to life events such as, stress, anxiety, uncertainty, sadness or grief become overwhelming and last for a long time, affecting you or your loved one’s ability to live, love, laugh and play, 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.

If you need health insurance:
Connect with free one-on-one support with a GetCoveredNYC Specialist who can walk you through the enrollment process and make sure you get the help you need.

If you do not qualify for health insurance or can't afford it:
GetCoveredNYC can help you enroll in
 NYC Care, a health care access program through NYC Health + Hospitals that guarantees low-cost and no-cost services regardless of your immigration status.


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.

What is behavioral healthcare?

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.

When should someone connect to behavioral healthcare?

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.

Who provides behavioral healthcare and how can I find a provider?

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. 

If you or a loved one are feeling overwhelmed or stressed, NYC 988 can help. NYC 988 is a free, confidential helpline for mental health support available 24/7 in over 200 languages.

What should I ask a new provider before or during my first appointment?

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.

What should I expect on my first visit with a behavioral healthcare provider?

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
What should I do after my appointment?

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.

How do I find behavioral healthcare if I'm uninsured?

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.

3. NYC 988

If you or a loved one are feeling overwhelmed or stressed, NYC 988 can help. NYC 988 is a free, confidential helpline for mental health support available 24/7 in over 200 languages.

How do I access behavioral healthcare in my preferred language?

You may find behavioral healthcare in multiple languages using the following services:

1. NYC 988

If you or a loved one are feeling overwhelmed or stressed, NYC 988 can help. NYC 988 is a free, confidential helpline for mental health support available 24/7 in over 200 languages.

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.

How do I find behavioral healthcare for LGBTQ+ New Yorkers?

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.

Find a list of Pride Health Center locations here.

What are my rights?

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.