Mental health has become a central topic of discussion as reports of depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions continue to increase in the United States and globally. Government, media, corporations, academic institutions, and nonprofits have all made large, though insufficient, commitments to address alarming rates of mental health distress and deaths of despair like drug overdoses and suicides. While mental health is often discussed in the context of clinical mental health services, there is growing agreement that simply expanding access to traditional clinical mental health services, like therapy and psychiatry, will not meet the full needs of the moment. This is due to a number of factors including a growing evidence-base that community members can be just as effective as clinicians at providing some forms of mental health support and the inseparability of mental health from other intersections of oppression and injustice.

Meanwhile, the field of social change and innovation is engaged with the greatest challenges of our time—our collective pain. Together with the communities we serve, those of us who work in social change witness the daily realities of poverty, injustice, violence, marginalization, and climate destruction. Many of us find ourselves on the front lines of crisis response, frequently torn between priorities of immediate relief and long-term reform. Existing narratives such as martyrdom, hero-preneurship, and resource scarcity cloud our efforts to work with great courage without excluding and exploiting ourselves. It is no wonder that burnout narratives prevail and countless social impact leaders—despite their immense talent and a sense of purpose—eventually walk away from the mission for good.

If mental health ultimately allows us to navigate life’s difficulties toward a sense of growth and contribution, then it is critical to social change, which exists at the intersection of our collective pain and our collective freedom. And if large swaths of the population are to experience the liberating possibilities of mental health and healing, then it cannot be left in the domain of the formal mental health system alone. To achieve lasting impact, and to experience much-needed collective healing, mental health must be integrated in our social change worlds.

This is not only necessary, but possible. Through our shared community of social innovators in the Catalyst 2030 Mental Health Collaboration, and at our own organizations, Brio and Mental Health America, we have witnessed the marvelous possibilities and outcomes of embedding mental health into social change work. As a collective of social entrepreneurs and practitioners, the Mental Health Collaboration seeks to accelerate innovation in global mental health as a means to more effectively and inclusively achieve important social and environmental impact.

Read the full article about mental health and social change by Daisy Rosales and Kelly Davis at Stanford Social Innovation Review.