Across the globe, mental health came into sharper focus during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, mental wellness generally has become better understood as an important component of the overall wellbeing that donors wish to foster in the communities they serve. Mental health needs are diverse and have not received the widespread support they deserve. Recent data from Candid shows that in the United States, for example, foundations support less than two (2) percent of total mental health funding. There is ample room for growth, both in the United States and abroad.

For those interested in supporting mental health, the field is vast and there is opportunity for donors of all kinds. Recent global research, for example, has shown the COVID-19 pandemic to be a leading cause of distress among teens and young adults. And in the United States and elsewhere, LGBTQ+ youth are at increased risk of self-harm and even suicide. Suicide has also been a pronounced problem in the U.S. military, and among families with financial hardship. There is also a need for mental health support for family members whose loved ones are in hospice care, and for those who serve as caretakers for family members. And surprisingly, among medical professionals, veterinarians suffer among the highest rates of suicide. Mental health of course also includes clinical diagnoses such as depression and other mental illness. There really is something for everyone.

Mental Health is a complex topic that requires long-term support and multi-sector partners. If there are needs in your communities of choice, as the above examples illustrate, philanthropy alone will not be able to solve them. You may find yourself needing to partner with local government, or others with whom you have not yet worked. A systems approach that tries to see your identified problem as part of a larger ecosystem will help keep you on task. A few tips for success:

  • Consider a cross-sector collaboration, which may appear riskier than other programs you may have funded but may yield more positive results.
  • Consider engaging in a donor collaboration at a level you feel comfortable with if those exist in your field of choice.
  • Increase general operating support for organizations supporting your community of choice.
  • Read about systems change to see how others are thinking about how to address complex, persistent problems.

Read the full article about mental health philanthropy by Donzelina Barroso and Rena Peng at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.