This guide profiles seven philanthropic foundations that are solving problems in mental health and substance abuse today. For each foundation, there is a description of its approach, some of its most influential initiatives, and how its efforts fit into the broader mental-health landscape. Most of these subjects have a local focus, and a long view on bringing improvements to their communities. One—the Well Being Trust—was created in 2016 to promote mental health across the nation.
The field of mental health has long struggled with definitional issues, and our understanding of the complex ways that brain, environment, and experience interact to create a psychiatric status is rapidly changing. Some analysts focus on hard molecular, genetic, and neurocircuit markers of illness. Broader approaches include factor like life-purpose and meaning. The philanthropists profiled use a range of definitions and demonstrate that it is possible to help people even when experts don’t fully understand the nature of brain health and disease.
Many observers question whether mental illness and substance abuse are different or interconnected conditions. Because they share many symptoms and effects, and because many useful solutions address both problems, both are included in this paper.
The Philanthropy Roundtable’s review of this field was undertaken in response to concern among philanthropists. America is in the midst of a serious crisis in mental health, as seen in statistics on substance abuse, suicide, medication of young people, and other topics. Our members are receiving proposals from every sphere of society asking for assistance. Funding is requested for counselors in schools, screening in workplaces, and new approaches in family services. Nonprofits tackling unemployment, homelessness, crime, family decline, and other issues are seeking help with mental-health aspects of their work.
Many donors want to avoid being reactive and piecemeal in their giving and need ideas, examples, and history to make them more informed grantmakers. This guide summarizes some of the key ideas, important statistics, and notable actors animating contemporary mental-health philanthropy. This guide is illustrative, and should not be read as a definitive survey, or as an endorsement of any single strategy.