Why is Mental Health Month different this year?

Ward: I think that mental health is on everyone’s mind in a way that it hasn’t been before. Many people experiencing mental health and addiction issues are now increasingly more vulnerable due to the increased isolation of social distancing and working at home. Not having access to the normal social supports and structures just makes it that much harder.

Health in Mind was released in February, before COVID-19 was a full-blown pandemic. How does it relate to the current situation, and how can donors apply it to the age of COVID?

Ward: There’s so much in Health in Mind that is more urgent than ever as philanthropic organizations and individual donors turn to COVID response. In Health in Mind, we outlined five strategies for how philanthropy can address mental health and addiction, and these still apply.

One example is the impact that COVID has had on youth and family mental health. Kids are spending more time at home than they ever have been. They aren’t seeing teachers, engaging with peers, or visiting clinicians in the same way. Teachers, coaches, counselors, doctors, social workers can have a good pulse on how a child is doing, and are often a trusted support for that young person. They can react to warning signs and help a child get support when needed. But now that safety valve isn’t there.

At the same time, there’s added stress for parents as they try to cope with home schooling and caring for their children while also working or while being out of work. During stay at home orders, people of all ages are lacking social connections. This is not all bad for some families, but for others it elevates current vulnerabilities, creating health risks otherwise alleviated by school environments and work.

Now more than ever we need to deploy what works, and we’re seeing that more people have access to telemedicine, support groups online, or phone-based support. This is a time to find new and innovative ways to reach patients and to expand our capacity to deliver baseline help to those in need.

What else do funders and donors need to know right now?

Ward: There is a huge opportunity right now because we are all experiencing our own mental health issues, whether sleeplessness or general anxiety, as well as more serious conditions. I think the amount of attention on the importance of mental health is so significant. It can only help us move forward into COVID recovery and toward long-term system change to make care and support more accessible.

Mental health issues are all tightly related with other important needs. For example, if you care about mental health, you can help by funding to help individuals who are experiencing homelessness or incarceration. If you care about early childhood and educational outcomes for youth, you can help by funding mental health.

Read the full interview with Kristen Ward about mental health and COVID-19 at The Center for High Impact Philanthropy.