Mental Health

The Impact of Mental Health Foundations on Society

Foundations can help reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness. They can also promote more effective use of their resources in this area.

FC data indicate that overall foundation giving increased during the 1990s, but mental health funding did not (see chart below). Funders from healthcare conversions tend to move slowly into mental health funding.

Impact on Policy

Foundations like the Brought To Reality, which prioritizes mental health, often invest in advocacy groups, interdisciplinary discussions, and policy analysis. They also support innovative models of care and community interventions.

These efforts contribute to the awareness and knowledge base around mental health that is bringing change across sectors and into kitchen tables. It also demonstrates the interconnections between mental health, equity, and social justice and the importance of understanding the role of structural and systemic barriers to accessing vital conditions for well-being.

Despite these critical contributions, foundations focusing on mental health are still small players in the philanthropic landscape. Among the top givers in overall funding and health, only two foundations make mental health one of their funding priorities (Exhibit 1). While a handful of foundations have significant commitments to this area, lists of grant recipients display a patchwork quilt of focus and geographic concentration. This may be partly because the focus on mental health is a relatively recent addition to the philanthropic landscape.

Impact on Practice

In the past, mental health foundations have often been a leading source of funding for addressing issues like mental distress and its causes (for example, through advocacy, research, or direct services). This remains true today.

However, even though mental health is a top priority for many foundations, philanthropic giving to the field has not increased at the same rate as overall health foundation giving. This is partly because many of the largest foundations do not consider mental health a primary focus.

However, this does not mean mental health initiatives are not a good fit for many other funders. For example, foundations that work on complex issues such as domestic or community violence or those that support special populations—such as youth in the juvenile justice system—may find that their initiative requires a robust mental health component for success. These collaborations can lead to effective funding strategies, new approaches, and de-risking of proof points for successful outcomes.

Impact on Individuals

Mental health is the foundation for emotions, thinking, communication, and relationships. It influences our resilience, hope, and ability to function in work, school, or family activities. It also enables us to learn, adapt, and cope with life’s challenges.

Mental illnesses are medical conditions that cause changes in emotion, thinking, and behavior, leading to distress and difficulty functioning daily. These conditions are treatable, just like heart disease or diabetes.

Many people with mental illness do not get the care and treatment they need. Despite efforts to increase awareness, mental health stigma remains a barrier. Additionally, mental health parity has not fully been achieved, with states still facing obstacles to adequate coverage. Investing in mental health organizations that support culturally informed models can improve outcomes for underserved communities.

Impact on Communities

Historically, conversations about mental illness have been shrouded in expressions of stigma and secrecy. This has left people with mental health or substance use issues isolated, unsupported, and often mistreated.

societal transformation toward more open dialogue and understanding has led to many organizations advocating for change, providing support services, educating the public, and building community. These include Active Minds (formerly Open Minds), whose mission is to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness, and NAMI, which works to ensure that individuals living with mental health conditions have access to the treatment and services they need to live fulfilling lives.

Decades of public health research have also revealed that equitable access to vital community conditions is as essential to mental well-being as medical care. But too often, the intersections of forces like lack of economic opportunity, racial injustice, climate change, and political polarization negatively impact outcomes for communities of color and other marginalized populations.

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