Community Mental Health Centers

Mental health is integral to overall health. According to one study, approximately 43 million Americans live with a diagnosable mental health condition. What’s more, many individuals with mental health conditions cannot afford care and don’t have health insurance to offset the cost.

Community mental health was born out of a need for better ways to treat people living with serious mental health conditions. State and federal funding is allocated to local mental health services to provide care to underserved and lower-income communities.

This article outlines what community mental health centers are, what to expect when visiting one, and how to locate one.

Men in a support group.

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What Is Community Mental Health?

According to the American Psychological Association, community mental health centers were established to treat individuals in their communities instead of in psychiatric institutions.

The community mental health model values psychoeducation, therapeutic interventions, and stabilization for people experiencing a crisis.

Instead of focusing just on mental health, providers in community mental health recognize that to understand the needs of the community they serve. Providers account for concerns facing the population and thoughtfully incorporate client needs in their interventions.

To understand community mental health, it’s important to recognize some of its tenets:

  • Strength-based approach that focuses on what people can do
  • Considers socioeconomic status
  • Accounts for client and their family or supports
  • Utilizes evidence-based interventions
  • Open access to care that supports individuals throughout their lives
  • Equity and fairness in allocation of resources
  • Team-based approach that stresses collaboration and coordination in care

Ultimately, community mental health takes a comprehensive approach to mental health treatment.

What Are Community Mental Health Centers?

Community mental health centers are community-based programs that offer a variety of services to support mental health. Counselors and social workers are among some of the healthcare professionals you’ll find at these mental health centers.

A person can seek comprehensive services at community mental health centers. Starting with an assessment of symptoms and concerns, individuals then work with their provider to identify goals and create a treatment plan. The client may participate in individual or group therapy.

Some community mental health centers may have a focus. For instance, there may be a facility that specializes in treating people living with substance use disorders. Another instance may be a center that focuses on offering crisis intervention and stabilization services.

Why Does Community Mental Health Matter?

Everyone deserves to feel well mentally. Community mental health centers can remove some of the typical barriers to care.

These centers provide access to the community that may otherwise be difficult to pay for or acquire. They may offer services that someone might need in various states of dealing with their mental health conditions. The application of evidence-based treatments ensures that clients receive effective treatment.

Additionally, considering a client’s strengths and needs means that clients can receive care that is empowering and individually tailored to their needs.

Community mental health centers tend to be centrally located in communities. They are often close to public transportation routes, removing some of the burden of access. Services are made affordable for individuals who may or may not have health insurance, removing financial barriers.

What to Expect

To get started, when you locate the mental health center of your choice, you might start by calling to ask for more information about the types of services they offer. You may also consider scheduling an intake appointment.

During your evaluation appointment, be ready to talk about any problems or concerns you’re having, as well as ideas about additional services that might support you and your family. Some questions you may ask include:

  • What types of mental health services are provided?
  • Is medication management available?
  • What is the process for getting connected to additional services?
  • What approaches to treatment does the staff take?
  • Who can I contact if I have questions or need support?
  • What other types of services are available to me? Housing or occupational support?
  • What is the cost of services?

When the healthcare provider gets a sense of your needs, you can work together to determine the best next step.

How to Find Resources

Many areas across the United States have local community mental health centers. To find one close to you, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
(SAMHSA) National Helpline
at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

You can also call 211, a free information and referral hotline. They can provide information about a variety of community resources, including medical and mental health services, food banks, housing needs, and more. They can provide information about resources that offer reduced costs or sliding fee scales, meaning the price you pay is based on your income.  

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.


Community mental health centers are state and federally funded programs that provide psychoeducation, preventive services, therapeutic interventions, and supportive services.

The broad range of services they implement can help improve the quality of life for individuals with chronic or severe mental health conditions or individuals who earn a lower income.

A Word From Verywell

Mental health is essential to overall well-being. If you’re in need of services but are struggling to find affordable services that can address multiple needs, a community mental health center may be a good place to start. 

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Bruckner TA, Singh P, Snowden LR, Yoon J, Chakravarthy B. Rapid growth of mental health services at community health centersAdm Policy Ment Health. 2019;46(5):670-677. doi:10.1007/s10488-019-00947-w

  2. Drake RE, Latimer E. Lessons learned in developing community mental health care in North America. World Psychiatry. 2012;11(1):47-51. doi:10.1016/j.wpsyc.2012.01.007

  3. Thornicroft G, Deb T, Henderson C. Community mental health care worldwide: current status and further developmentsWorld Psychiatry. 2016;15(3):276-286. doi:10.1002/wps.20349

  4. Castillo EG, Ijadi-Maghsoodi R, Shadravan S, et al. Community interventions to promote mental health and social equityCurr Psychiatry Rep. 2019;21(5):35. Published 2019 Mar 

  5. Science Direct. Community mental health.

By Geralyn Dexter, LMHC
Geralyn is passionate about empathetic and evidence-based counseling and developing wellness-related content that empowers and equips others to live authentically and healthily.