An agenda for mental health philanthropy

Charles Keidan

Many of you reading this, like myself, will have struggled with mental ill health at some point in your life or given support to a loved one who has.  

Whether you’ve experienced anxiety, depression, disordered eating, schizophrenia or simply felt a period of prolonged loneliness and alienation, the issue of mental health touches us all. 

Against a backdrop of existing social and economic inequalities, the global Covid pandemic has exacerbated mental health problems for the most vulnerable. Globally, those suffering from the impact of war, poverty, famine and climate change are those who suffer most acutely, both materially and psychologically. As with so many other issues, it is, therefore, the most vulnerable people and communities who should be at the forefront of philanthropy’s response. 

But for too long, and for too many people, that has not been the case. 

Could the Covid pandemic be the moment to crystallise change  in the scale and focus of funding for mental health around the world? 

While contexts differ, our special feature, guest-edited by Australian philanthropy practitioner Krystian Seibert, who chairs Mental Health First Aid Australia International in his home country, attempts to provide a global view of developments. 

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

As this Alliance special feature highlights, mental health has been underserved even among foundations addressing health issues

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

Second, philanthropy should use its influence to press for that 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 protections for their citizens for example through universal basic income and universal health coverage.

Finally, philanthropy should support 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 these ideas may seem utopian, foundations are ideally placed to support the development of new thinking and develop the policy work needed to overcome barriers to successful implementation. 

It is welcome to see foundations changing policies and practices to improve the mental health and well-being of their staff, consultants, partners and grantees. But 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 in the first place. 

That’s an opportunity for philanthropy too good to miss. 

From rhetoric to tangible change
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, OECD authors note that philanthropy ‘has a long way to go to be the game changer it aspires to be’.

Another organisation offering a challenge to philanthropy is the OECD. In its latest report on effective development, OECD authors note 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 the further globalisation of our publication through the arrival of regional representatives in underserved regions where philanthropy infrastructure – and thus access to networks and sources – is still emerging. Alongside that, we are tapping into the expertise of our editorial advisory board through more regular meetings and developing our work with Alliance members.  

With so much happening in philanthropy, I hope you continue to enjoy being part of the Alliance community. 

We look forward to your feedback on the new issue and, in the meantime, wish you mindful reading.

Charles Keidan is Executive Editor at Alliance magazine.
Email: charles@alliancemagazine.org
Twitter: @charleskeidan


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