I’ve heard it said by almost everyone I’ve met in this city that if you’re living in New York you best get yourself a therapist.
New Yorkers tell me that I should go to therapy with almost as much frequency as they love telling me “Welcome to New York!” when I gripe about some minor grievance with this city. It appears that nearly everyone here is in therapy, and it’s no surprise.
Roughly 20% of New York’s population suffers from depression, compared to the 6.7% national average, not to mention the fact that New York’s homeless population is higher than that of any other city.
It’s no wonder that almost every New Yorker I meet is repping therapy as a means of keeping your head in this city.
Here are the problems I’m running into in my quest to find someone to listen to me cry (I cry, like, all the time) for an hour each week:
I don’t know if my health insurance covers it.
I called, because I suspect I have a sinus problem, and they told me that my insurance doesn’t cover pre-existing conditions, which is a term I have only ever heard thrown around during American healthcare debates that I am unable to follow.
Does depression count as a pre-existing condition? This fact has still eluded me and even if it was covered by my insurance, I would still have to pay a sizeable chunk of the cost.
So here I am looking for solutions to this problem.
Should I download an app? Would it be effective? Is group therapy worth taking a look at? I’m not sure; as a comedian, I like being the center of attention and sharing the stage/floor with others doesn’t sound like the most appealing option.
I have emailed a number of universities in the city, hoping to be selected as a possible patient for future psychologists. And I mean, everywhere in the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn, from Columbia to NYU and Fordham, hoping someone would hear my story and be interested enough help.
A quick search for free therapy turns up some interesting results, the majority being therapy hotlines.
I’m open to the experience, but hesitant. Will I lose something in the lack of face to face communication? Who knows, it could certainly help in a pinch. Google recommended the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, though I’m not suicidal, just dead depressed, so I’m reticent to call.
Now, there is a center that specializes in LGBTQ+ individuals and, I happen to be the B. The Institute for Human Identity is a non-profit psychotherapy and training center that dedicates itself to “fostering personal growth free of traditional gender, sexual orientation, and cultural bias.” They offer a free walk-in clinic, and you best believe I will be walking in there.
After the initial walk in there is a fee, but offer a sliding scale based on your annual income. I earn next to nothing, so I’m hoping it’s like… $5 a session?
Another low-cost option is the Training Institute for Mental Health. These guys practice psychoanalytic psychotherapy. I’ll be real - I don’t know what that means, but I clocked the word “therapy” so I’m sold. Individual rates for sessions here are $30 a session and that seems like a bargain to me.
I thought I’d try one of the therapy apps.
Most of the options that came up were more geared towards meditation which I don’t think is really my thing?
I need to keep an open mind about this kind of stuff though.
However, I suspect it’s not for me as my least favorite part of yoga is lying on the mat in silence, at the end of the class for 20 minutes, just… doing nothing. It’s not really my bag.
Another app, Moodpath, asks you daily questions to assess whether or not you’re depressed. But like, I’m depressed right now. I’m not wondering whether or not I’m feeling some kind of way.
I settled on an app called 7 Cups for two reasons - one: it claimed to provide online therapy and emotional support, two: it was free. First I chatted with a bot named Noni, who offered to walk me through a few therapeutic techniques to help me.
They said I’d be connected to a real person soon.
I also found out that if you tell Noni they’re adorable she responds with “thanks!” I opted to be connected to a therapist. But here’s where I found myself losing interest in this exercise - I could only talk to a therapist for a 3-day free trial. After that, it would cost me.
Now my therapist that I was assigned to wasn’t online at the time so I tried to the listener option. I was matched with someone called Sunny who proved to be rather ineffectual, responding to a moment of vulnerability with “but why r u depressed when u have the one u love” or “why do u think that is?”
Sunny proved more irritating than helpful, I would much rather have talked to an online therapist but at 4:24 PM, there appeared to be none available to listen to my woes. I tried switching to different therapists but none were active.
Over the course of the three-day free trial, I wasn’t able to get in touch with a therapist and talk live with them. Maybe we were all just on different schedules, but my thirst for therapy proved unsatiated by this particular app.
Aware of my quest, a friend suggested finding a support group and a quick search offered me a number of options all over the city. Some were very niche in their support descriptions, specifying their focus on depression, relationships, LGBTQ+ issues, women’s only groups, domestic violence, anxiety and a litany of other mental health-related situations that would require support.
In a rare moment of serendipity, I boarded the F train which just so happened to be plastered with billboards for NYC WELL.
This hotline didn’t seem as crisis orientated, and also didn’t make me feel like I’d be stealing someone’s more deserving time by calling up. Most hotlines are very suicide-heavy in their descriptions and emphasize that this is what they’re trying to prevent.
So I was reluctant to call one as I didn’t want to take up someone’s spot as it were. NYC WELL purported to deal with stress, depression, anxiety and alcohol and drug abuse so I thought “perfect!”
and took the relevant advertising to be some sort of sign.
I was on hold for a very long time. It would appear there’s definitely some truth to the statistics about New Yorkers being especially depressed.
I listened to some weirdly soothing hold music for a while and was told by the pre-recorded, standard hold lady voice that the helpline was experiencing particularly high volumes of callers today. It was a Wednesday. A very sunny Wednesday. I guess the good weather can’t circumvent depression.
I was connected with a counselor who listened to my story, gauging my depression and how I was dealing with it.
I was shocked - this service worked!
My counselor was able to offer me a number of venues that provide free therapy or offered sessions on a sliding scale. She sent me an email comprised of the venue names, what they offered and how long the wait time would be on seeing a therapist. She assured me that these places don’t turn anyone away and tried to find locations near my apartment so I wouldn’t be trekking up to Queens or Washington Heights.
I have yet to go to one of these venues but the fact that, after trying for the duration of Mental Health Month to find a low-cost alternative to therapy, I was able to do so is a huge win in my book.
If you yourself are feeling like you’re in the throes of depression, dealing with anxiety or stress, then call 1-888-NYC-WELL.