An agenda for mental health philanthropy

Alliance magazine has just published an in-depth feature on mental health philanthropy as part of our latest issue.

Below, I offer a few words of introduction and some suggestions for what I think philanthropy ought to be doing in this area.

Many of you reading this, like myself, will have struggled with mental ill health at some point or supported a loved one who has. The issue of mental health touches us all though it is the most vulnerable people and communities who suffer most acutely. They should be at the forefront of philanthropy’s response. But for too long, and for too many people, that has not been the case.

As this Alliance feature highlights, mental health has been under-served even among foundations addressing health issues. That’s a discredit to philanthropy which at its best gives resources and visibility to neglected issues. But it is also an opportunity for philanthropy. As the WHO and national governments renew their focus on mental health, there are multiple opportunities to make a difference.

First, philanthropy should advocate to ensure that rhetorical commitments by governments to mental health are matched by substantial increases in public spending.

Second, philanthropy should use its influence to press for mental health spending to be targeted where evidence suggests it’s most needed, for example in research, prevention and treatments.

Third, philanthropic support in this area should tackle broader social and economic determinants of inequality. This could include campaigning for governments to provide more welfare protection for their citizens for example through universal basic income and universal health coverage.

Finally, progressive foundations could back calls for a three-day weekend – allowing people to enjoy leisure and nature with their friends and families, and the time and space to volunteer in their communities. While this may seem utopian, foundations are ideally placed to support promising ideas and the policy work needed to overcome barriers to successful implementation.

Prompted by the pandemic, it is welcome to see foundations changing policies and practices to improve the mental health and well-being of their staff, partners and grantees. Could the impetus of the Covid pandemic be the moment to increase the scale and focus of funding for mental health worldwide? Beyond their own organisations, foundations can and should go further giving attention to the systems which make so many of us susceptible to mental ill health. That’s an opportunity for philanthropy too good to miss.

Also in the issue: Carmen Rojas, OECD and Philea.

Beyond mental health, the issue features an interview with Dr Carmen Rojas, the outspoken president of the Marguerite Casey Foundation who warns about the ‘say-do’ gap in philanthropy – too much talk and not enough action when it comes to racial justice. Another organisation offering a challenge to philanthropy is the OECD. In their latest report on effective development, the OECD notes that philanthropy ‘has a long way to go to be the game changer it aspires to be’.

At Alliance itself, we’ve begun 2022 with a spring in our step after an intense 25th anniversary year. There are significant developments afoot. These include our further globalisation through the arrival of regional representatives in under-served regions where philanthropy infrastructure – and thus access to networks and sources – is still emerging.

I hope you enjoy the new issue

Wishing you mindful reading.


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