UPDATE: As of May 9th, Cerebral will no longer prescribe stimulant treatment options like Adderall and Ritalin for ADHD. Cerebral prescribers can offer non-stimulant treatment options. Learn more here.

Jessica Turner

Brightside vs Cerebral: Which is Better for Mental Health?

40 million adults in the US suffer from anxiety disorders, now considered the most common mental health issue plaguing the nation. Many of those with anxiety also experience symptoms of depression, which has unfortunately grown increasingly more common as Americans’ sense of social isolation has increased due to the global pandemic. 


Luckily, medical treatment has proved to be helpful for millions. Two commonly used and highly effective approaches include talk therapy (i.e. counseling) and medication (usually antidepressants). You may have already had success with anxiety medication but need a more reliable way to fill your prescription. Or perhaps you’ve just started to notice anxiety or depression symptoms and want to know where to turn for help.


Either way, telehealth offers a convenient way to get quality mental health treatment, ASAP. It’s become mainstream during the pandemic, but is likely here to stay, given how much more accessible it is than traditional in-person care.


Brightside and Cerebral are two of the top online mental health care platforms that offer virtual diagnosis and treatment for anxiety and depression, among many other conditions. 


In this article we’ll do a head-to-head comparison of Brightside vs Cerebral, including details about how they work, the types of mental health disorders they’re best designed to treat, the quality of care you should expect, the types of drugs they prescribe, pricing, and their online counseling & ongoing support options. Hopefully, we’ll help you decide which of these platforms makes the most sense for you.

 

Cutting to the chase: 

Short on time? We’ll reveal our top pick, which ultimately depends on your budget and needs.

 

Brightside vs Cerebral – Which is better?

 

If you’re looking for the most comprehensive virtual care from the industry-leading psychiatrists, Brightside is our #1 pick for anxiety and depression care.

 

 

 

 

For anyone on a tighter budget and/or who’s experiencing less severe symptoms, we recommend Cerebral as the most affordable mental health care provider online.

 

 

 

 

 

After in-depth research, we think Brightside is the best choice for online mental health treatment. It offers a comprehensive solution by seamlessly integrating technology with medical sciences to provide better patient experiences. That said, we realize not everyone can afford Brightside, and Cerebral’s more affordable options can still help you get the treatment you need. It’s ultimately the best choice for anyone looking for mental health care treatment on a budget. 

 

An overview of tele-psychiatry 

Telehealth startups started to gain popularity before COVID, but being the only option whilst trapped at home definitely helped them blossom. Today, consumers have broadly embraced virtual care as a more convenient and often more affordable way to get professional medical attention for a wide range of conditons.


This includes mental health, which is complex and historically has posed a lot of challenges for clinicians to diagnose and treat effectively. For instance, many struggle to find the right therapist within driving distance, but online mental health care makes the process easier and has helped millions overcome barriers to accessing quality treatment on demand.

 

Source: Brightside


Before companies like Brightside and Cerebral, patients would typically talk to their primary care physician, who may prescribe mental health medication and/or more likely refer you to a psychiatrist. You may choose therapy as a standalone treatment or in addition to medication. Therapy would require visits to a separate specialist, such as a psychologist or other qualified counselor, which may require joining a wait list given such high demand in most major markets and/or low supply of local therapists. 


Virtual mental health clinics make the process much more convenient. Not only do you save time and energy by staying at home and meeting digitally, but you can get diagnosed and treated through one platform and can get medications delivered to your door, rather than going in-person to see multiple specialists before stopping at your local pharmacy for each refill. That right there saves you about 3 separate trips that you’d have to take in a normal setting. The process is usually as easy as meeting with a professional online, receiving a consultation and getting your treatment as needed. Naturally this is much more timely than in-person treatment as well, which is critical for anyone suffering through a mental health crisis right now.


Some mental health platforms solely offer medication, while others focus exclusively on therapy. What’s great about both Brightside and Cerebral is that they give you plenty of treatment options within each site, both offering therapy, prescription medication, or a combination of the two. Both platforms also make it easy to access ongoing care as well as helpful educational resources to provide individualized care beyond the first appointment. 


For most people, mental health treatment through these virtual platforms has proven just as effective as in-person treatment. Through reputable sites like Brightside and Cerebral, treatment comes from qualified medical professionals who prescribe legitimate, clinically-proven medications. For many, it’s possible virtual care may be even more effective than in-person treatment.

 

For example, for anyone that moves or travels a lot, the convenience of online visits and to-your-door medication could create the circumstances for them to continue with treatment on an ongoing basis in a more convenient way.

 

That said, virtual care isn’t a fit for everyone. If you’re suffering from acute mental health symptoms and/or have been diagnoses with a more complex disorder than just anxiety or depression, however, it’s always advised to see a doctor in person.

 

 

Brightside vs Cerebral – A side-by-side comparison

The following chart shows you the biggest similarities and differences between these telemedicine platforms, comparing Cerebral and Brightside head-to-head: 

 

Cerebral vs Brightside

  
Pricing$95/month for medication with a psychiatric provider

$349/month for therapy + medication

$299/month for therapy 
$85/month for medication + care counseling

$195/month for medication + therapy

$145/month for therapy 
Insurance accepted?
Membership required?
Free shipping for prescriptions?
Access to licensed professionals?
Unlimited messaging with psychiatrist/therapist/counselor
Self care lessons?
Conditions treated in addition to anxiety & depression?
Bipolar II
Insomnia
OCD
Panic disorder
Phobia
Postpartum Depression
Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)
PTSD
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Social anxiety disorder

Insomnia
Menopausal depression
Postpartum depression
Trauma & PTSD

In certain states:
ADHD 
Alcohol dependence
Bipolar disorder
Chronic obesity
Opioid Use Disorder
Pediatric Care (coming soon)
Schizophrenia (coming soon)
States availableMedication and therapy available in all US statesMedication in all US states;

Therapy plans available in: 

Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin
Website

 

 

Brightside Health review

Source: Brightside

 

Brightside’s proclaimed commitment is to provide the kind of mental health care that it would strive to provide for their own family members. While most traditional services use “guess and check” prescribing approaches, Brightside deviates from this standard practice by providing a truly integrated approach to psychiatry and therapy.

 

We’ll overview the platform here, but for a more in-depth analysis, be sure to check out our full review of Brightside as well.


Overall, Brightside customers demonstrate an impressive satisfaction rate, with 85% of users feeling better after 12 weeks, thanks to their strategy of precision medication, evidence-based therapy, and professional support at every step. While this is a self-reported metric, but if Brightside feels comfortable publishing it across their site and marketing materials, we have to believe it’s a metric they watch closely and strive to improve.

 

 

What conditions does Brightside treat? 

The complete list of disorders that Brightside helps to treat includes:

 

  • Generalized anxiety disorders
  • Major Depressive disorders
  • Panic disorder
  • Phobia
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Seasonal affective disorder
  • Postpartum depression
  • Insomnia
  • Bipolar 
  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder

 


How does Brightside’s platform work?

Source: Brightside


To start a mental health care journey on Brightside, you’ll first complete an online assessment with 25 questions.


You will be asked to score criteria related to depression and anxiety diagnoses in this screening measure. This helps you to decide whether you want therapy, medication, or a mix of the two. After completing the assessment, you will be assigned a score that reflects where you fall on the spectrum for the severity of your symptoms for both depression and anxiety.


Based on your responses, you will be matched with a psychiatric provider, a therapist, or both, and you’ll receive information about their professional expertise and background.


Then, you’ll be able to book your first live video session based on your matched provider’s individual schedules and session availability. In most cases, you’ll have a video consultation within 48 hours to discuss how you’re feeling and the next steps. A Brightside doctor will next prescribe a treatment plan, and if medication is prescribed, you’ll get it delivered to your door, typically within a week.


Following that initial consultation, you will continue to adhere to your doctor’s treatment plan. You’ll have access to unlimited messaging with your doctor and have the ability to meet with them via video calls as your treatment progresses to check-in and discuss your performance. The chat option is really handy when you don’t want or need a full session, but have a quick question or just need some words of wisdom.

 


What treatments does Brightside offer?

Brightside offers comprehensive care. Depending on your membership plan and care plan, this may include:


1. Medication-only plan

Source: Brightside


Brightside has a large and diverse assortment of medications. Their selection of available pharmaceuticals is significantly greater than that of comparable brands that are FDA-approved, giving each patient the access to medication that’s truly customized to their own situation. 


If you opt for a medication-assisted plan, you will meet with your psychiatric specialist via video for a consultation, and the provider will select an appropriate prescription for you. If you are recommended medication, it will be delivered to your door within a week of your session with monthly refills to follow.


Brightside advocates the use of “Brightfinder”, a science-based algorithm driven by RX options, decades of study, and your specific data points to match you with the proper prescription, in addition to the provider’s insight.


Your Path” (a Brightside portal/side-effect tracker) is also utilized to assist the psychiatric practitioner in tracking your progress. If you don’t fully reap the benefits of unlimited messaging with the provider, Your Path weekly monitoring will also help to inform medication modifications and care recommendations. 

 

 

2. Therapy-Only Plan

Source: Brightside

 

Brightside also provides licensed therapists that have several years of experience and are licensed to operate in your state. Based on your geographic area, you are matched with a therapist and will start your once-a-week 30-minute video session. 


Aside from appointments with your therapist and unlimited messaging, you can listen to audio self-care lessons based on CBT principles, such as learning the benefits of practicing gratitude, relying on social support, engaging in mindful breathing, and exercising mental flexibility.


Similar to the medication program, you can track your emotional trajectory with Brightside’s Your Path symptom tracker, which provides feedback to you and your therapist on how you are feeling and your progress. It can compare your anxiety and depression symptoms week by week, creating a graph over time.


If you want to improve your mental health entirely through therapy and would like to plan regular therapy sessions using mobile applications, we recommend that you look into the best virtual therapy apps.


3. Medication + Therapy Plan

Brightside also provides a therapy and medicine package that includes unlimited messaging with your therapist, weekly live video sessions, and medication prescription services. Brightside promotes it as their most successful treatment, giving you a 60% better chance of recovery than a single treatment alone.

 

 

What drugs can Brightside prescribe?

The following are just a few drugs that Brightside providers can prescribe. The website explicitly mentions that Brightside does not treat or prescribe medication for ADHD, nor will they prescribe benzodiazepines (controlled substances).  

 

Source: Brightside

 

 

How much does Brightside cost?

Brightside’s pricing varies by the online mental health services that you choose. Costs cary depending on whether your treatment includes just medication, just therapy, or both. Here is a detailed pricing breakdown:

 

Brightside PlanPricingWhat’s included
Precision Psychiatry Medication$45 for first month

$95/month after that  
Unlimited messaging with a Psychiatrist 

Free shipping of medications to your doorstep 
Evidence-Adherent Therapy$249 for first month

$299/month after that
Unlimited messaging with a Therapist 

Weekly 30-minute video sessions with a therapist
Comprehensive Medication + Therapy$249 for first month

$349/month after that 

+ Pharmacy copay or $15 per medication
Unlimited messaging with a Psychiatrist & Therapist 

Video calls 

Free shipping of medications to your doorstep 

 

Does Brightside accept insurance?

Brightside accepts a small selection of insurance policies from various states to cover all or some of your mental health services. Brightside currently has contracts with:

  • Cigna
  • BCBS
  • Magellan
  • Humana
  • Wellmark
  • MHN in various states

 

When using insurance to pay, you’re only responsible then for copays, coinsurance, deductibles, or prescription costs associated with your plan. Insurance can pay for clinical features of your Brightside membership (including video consultations, unlimited messaging, treatment monitoring, and medication management). 

 

You do not have to have insurance, however to use Brightside’s mental health care treatments. They have made their care affordable without insurance, payable with HSA or FSA if available, and credit card if not.

 

 

Brightside Health reviews: What do patients say?

 

 

 

Source: Reviews.io

 

So, is Brightside legit?

In short, yes, Brightside is a legit place to seek treatment for any depression or anxiety treatment. In fact, in our opinion, it’s the most legitimate online mental health provider in the country. That said, Brightside is definitely on the pricier side, so if money is the number one factor in making your choice, read on to check out our review of Cerebral

 

 

 

Cerebral mental health review

Source: Cerebral

 

Cerebral is a subscription-based provider of mental health services. Just like Brightside, Cerebral treats depression, anxiety, and insomnia, but also serves folks with bipolar disorder and ADHD. (Side note: Cerebral has recently STOPPED prescribing stimulants for ADHD as of May 9th, but still offers non-stimulant treatments).


Cerebral offers online therapy and prescription drug management from physicians, counselors, and professional therapists for an affordable rate – at least much more affordably than traditional in-person psychiatry. Plus patients can communicate with the service’s care team via unlimited online messaging.

 

What does Cerebral treat? 

The complete list of mental health disorders that Cerebral helps to treat includes:

 

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Postpartum depression
  • Menopausal depression
  • Trauma and PTSD
  • ADHD
  • Bipolar Disorder


Additionally, the platform has expanded to serve patients with a few additional mental-health-adjacent conditions such as chronic obesity, alcohol dependence, and opioid use disorder (in certain states only). It’s also proved helpful for folks with more mild social/personal problems such as anger management, low self-esteem, relationship problems, and divorce. 

 

Again, Cerebral is not currently prescribing Schedule 2 stimulants for ADHD after being subpoenaed by the federal government. We will keep this article updated as the story unfolds.

 

FYI, we’ve previously compared Cerebral to other top online ADHD medication providers as well as more natural ADHD alternatives like nootropics. If you’re eager to learn more, our top recommendation is Thesis, which we’ve also reviewed in full:

 

 

 

 

 

How does Cerebral work? 

Source: Cerebral

 

Cerebral’s online registration takes only a few minutes and can be done from your phone or computer. To determine which plan is right for you, you will be asked to complete a quick emotional assessment.


You begin creating an account by providing your name, address, phone number, and a picture of your face, along with an appropriate government-issued ID.


Following the completion of the emotional assessment, you will be presented with a choice of three subscription levels to choose from, which we review below.


Depending on the subscription package selected, you’ll be presented with a list of prescribers or therapists that you can choose from based on their their bios. Your first appointment will be scheduled within seven days of signing up for services. During this visit, the provider will confirm a suitable treatment plan and determine whether or not medication is required.


If your prescriber recommends medication, they will order it and have it delivered to your home address or local pharmacy on a monthly basis.


Lastly (again, depending on the plan you and your doctor select) a care counselor will contact you monthly, or you will meet with your therapist on a weekly basis. Follow-up appointments with your prescriber, therapist, or care counselor are available.

 


Cerebral treatment options for anxiety and depression

Source: Cerebral 

 

1. Medication + care counseling 

This plan includes time with a provider, who will create a treatment plan for you, and a Care Counselor, who will be your guide for the rest of your experience. To treat anxiety, depression, and insomnia, Cerebral providers may prescribe selective serotonin reuptake medications or serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors. 

 

Source: Cerebral


Care Counselors are the primary point of contact for patients on a medicine and counseling plan to keep you on track. They will ensure that your medication is providing you with some relief and that you are not experiencing any harmful effects from it.


Care Counselors are also important in monitoring your mental health and providing you with skills to enhance it. While these visits aren’t as long as therapy sessions, there’s still time for you and your counselor to connect and for them to get a sense of what might help you along your journey, which can include things like specific breathing or grounding exercises or a meditation approach.

 

Cerebral’s Medication + Care Counseling plan can also prescribe drugs to treat ADHD, PTSD, and bipolar illness in some areas, but can’t currently only non-stimulants.

 


2. Cerebral’s therapy plan

Cerebral therapists are dedicated professionals who are certified to operate in your state and have many years of expertise. Cerebral therapists use evidence-based treatments such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to treat clients.


Sessions with therapists often last 45 minutes. You’ll meet with your therapist once a week, but you’ll also have access to them via a secure messaging network accessible through your Cerebral account.

 

Source: Cerebral


3. Cerebral medication + counseling plan 

This plan, like Brightside, includes everything in the Medication + Care Counseling plan, with access to a growing number of professional therapists to be your main point of contact, instead of a Care Counselor. Similarly, you’ll meet with your therapist of choice on a weekly basis through video chat.

 

Combined psychotherapy and medication treatment has been demonstrated in studies to be the superior treatment for significant depression, anxiety, and other disorders. We recommend this approach if you believe that more regular counseling sessions combined with prescription medication would be beneficial to you.

 

 

How much does Cerebral cost?

You can choose from different plans, which may include just medication, just therapy or both. Pricing varies by the plan. Here are plan options:

 

Cerebral PlanPricingWhat’s included
Medication + Care Counseling $30 for first month

$85/month after that  
Evaluation, diagnosis, and prescription by a medical prescriber

Ongoing video/phone sessions with a care counselor

Regular progress checks

Medication delivery
Coaching $59 for first month

$145/month after that
Weekly video/phone sessions with a therapist

Regular progress checks

Unlimited messaging with a therapist 
Medication + Coaching $79 for first month

$195/month after that 
Evaluation, diagnosis, and prescription by a medical prescriber

Weekly video/phone sessions with a therapist

Regular progress checks

Medication delivery

24/7 chat with a therapist 

 

Does Cerebral accept insurance?

Cerebral accepts a variety of insurance policies, and if you’re in-network, your subscription plan, no matter which one you choose, is only $29 per month. However, depending on your coverage, you may be required to pay a copay in addition to the medication’s cost.

 

Cerebral reviews: What do patients say?

In general, Cerebral’s online reviews are a more mixed than Brightside’s. Some user complain about the inability to schedule an appointment when needed, and the company’s overall rating on Trustpilot was 3.8/5 from over 3200 reviewers. Not the best we’ve seen, but very solid, especially when considering they treat such a wide range of mental health conditions.

 

 

Source: TrustPilot

 

 

So, is Cerebral legit?

Cerebral is a convenient and affordable way to access many mental health treatments online. They offer multiple different plans at a significantly lower cost than most of their competitors, including Brightside, which is extremely helpful to support patients’ unique needs. Although the company has come under scrutiny recently, we appreciate that every company has growing pains and support Cerebral’s mission to democratize access to quality mental healthcare.

 

 

The Verdict: Which is better, Cerebral or Brightside? 

There is no doubt that Brightside and Cerebral are among the two top tele-psychiatry services available on the market today. Treatment from telepsychiatry providers is convenient and effective for the majority of people, and these two in particular both offer a large range of legitimate treatment options, including prescriptions meds delivered to your home at no extra cost. Furthermore, they offer evidence-based therapy and ongoing one-on-one care.


After thoroughly investigating both platforms, Brightside is our top choice because of the comprehensive services it offers. Brightside also offers both its medication and therapy services in all 50 states. This service puts its full focus on treating anxiety and depression, with a range of specific focuses and services. In addition to medication and therapy options, you can take part in a self-care program, choose care counseling or coaching, and receive ongoing guidance from your prescriber.


Brightside’s biggest distinguishing feature is its utilization of modern digital technologies. Their Brightfinder system analyses over 100 data points and decades of clinical trial data to identify the most appropriate FDA-approved drug for your individual situation. Brightside also sets you up for success through its “Your Path” platform, which allows you and your doctor to follow your unique symptoms over time and modify treatment along the way. Given that mental health challenges are lifelong battles, this is a refreshing development.


That said, Brightside’s services aren’t affordable to all. Luckily Cerebral is a solid choice for those wanting to address anxiety or depression on a budget. It doesn’t provide therapy in all states, but this service is available in many, and they have the ability to prescribe medication everywhere in the US. In addition, Cerebral offers treatment beyond anxiety and depression, so it’s a good choice if you’re seeking treatment for something else like ADHD, insomnia, weight loss, or alcohol dependence.

 

We’d love to hear about your experience with either service (Cerebral or Brightside) in the comments below!

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