Mental health challenges affect every woman, man, and child in the United States. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five American adults has a diagnosable mental health condition, and more than half of adults with a mental health disorder do not receive treatment.

What’s more, a study from the Journal of Psychiatry found that mental illness costs America more than $193 billion per year. That’s more than any other health problem, including heart disease, trauma, and cancer. Yet mental health receives far less attention and investment than other diseases, even though mental health — and especially women’s mental health — is critical to achieving the social impact goals many of us pursue.

How Donors Can Support Women's Mental Health

To help address these challenges, the Hope & Grace Fund recently made more than $3.5 million in grants to 63 organizations that are helping thousands of women tackle mental health challenges and live fuller lives. Earlier this year, the Fund also hired Arabella Advisors to conduct independent research into opportunities in women’s mental health and produce an issue brief on the topic. In honor of World Mental Health Day, we’re sharing two recommendations from that work that concerned funders can use right away.

1. Support interventions where challenges to women’s mental health intersect with other social challenges

Mental health challenges affect us all. But they affect women differently than others, and they disproportionately affect women of color and economically marginalized communities, where they undercut potential progress on a wide variety of issues, from early child development to criminal justice reform. Mental health challenges are also compounded by the social determinants of health — e.g., access to health care and education, safety of neighborhoods, and quality of food, water, and air.

Where such determinants tend to undercut health broadly, they tend to undercut women’s mental health specifically. But this depressing reality also creates an opportunity for many funders: by looking for opportunities to support women’s mental health that align with health-related interventions you’re already supporting, you can often accelerate your impact within affected communities.

2. Support interventions that create a new — and better — baseline for change

Mounting evidence suggests that women are disproportionately exposed to risk factors linked to negative mental health outcomes, including poor economic conditions, emotional and sexual abuse, and violence. Yet health research in the last 20 years has made strikingly few advances when it comes to women’s mental health. Moreover, in the studies that have been conducted, women of color have frequently been so underrepresented that it is unclear whether the research findings even apply to them. Advocating for, and investing in, research that focuses specifically on women’s mental health and wellbeing can help establish a new and truer baseline for change.

For more ideas and insights on this topic, see this issue brief.


Julie Slay is senior director at Arabella Advisors. Mary Rainwater is an independent consultant who partners with Arabella on the Hope & Grace Fund project.