Who’s Providing Funding for Women and Girls’ Mental Health?

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As the worst of the pandemic has ebbed and we assess the damage, there has been growing attention to the many Americans with mental health problems. A startling 90% of adults in the U.S. believe the country is experiencing a mental health crisis, a CNN/Kaiser Family Foundation poll found, and many experts agree. As Nora Volkow, who directs the National Institute on Drug Abuse, told CNN: “The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated numerous social stressors that we know can increase the risk of both substance use and mental illness.”

Young people appear to be at particularly high risk, and major medical groups have raised alarms, including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association, along with the U.S. Surgeon General

Now, Mindful Philanthropy is highlighting another section of the population that is at risk but has been consistently overlooked: girls and women. Mental health problems, the organization points out, are the leading cause of disability for women around the world. It also cites research showing that women are two times as likely to suffer from depression as men, and twice as likely to face challenges accessing quality health services. The organization’s new campaign, With Her in Mind, aims to bring women and girls’ mental health issues to the attention of the public — and to the nation’s philanthropic funders. 

Philanthropy has been slow to address mental health as a whole, which is why three mental health funders — Peg’s Foundation, Well Being Trust, Scattergood Foundation and its John Heller Fund — teamed up in 2020 to create Mindful Philanthropy, as IP reported. The group’s goal is to raise awareness of mental health issues in the world of philanthropy and encourage funders to include mental health in their funding priorities. The organization provides information and support for foundations that are interested in mental health but are not sure how to approach the issue.

A small number of funders do prioritize mental health, including the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Ballmer Group, the Bezos Family Foundation, the Hackett Foundation, Morgan Stanley Foundation, Peg’s Foundation, Rare Impact Fund, Scattergood Foundation, the Upswing Fund for Adolescent Mental Health and Well Being Trust. MacKenzie Scott has also supported a number of mental health initiatives. Regional funders, like the California Endowment, which recently commissioned a survey on youth mental health in California, are also playing a role. Overall, though, just 1.3% to 1.5% of foundation funding goes to mental health and addiction. 

Philanthropic support specifically for women and girls’ mental health is even more hard to find. According to Mindful Philanthropy’s Executive Director Alyson Niemann, “Very few funders really explicitly focus on women and girls’ mental health. Some fund adjacent or related areas, but women and girls’ mental health continues to remain unseen.”

One sign of that lack of visibility, Niemann said, is that numbers on the amount of philanthropic funding going specifically to women and girls’ mental health simply don’t exist — although we do know that just 1.9% of charitable giving went to girls’ and women’s causes in 2019. Between that and the fact that so little foundation funding goes to mental health in general, one assumes the figure here is very small indeed.

Funders should be paying attention, however. As Niemann pointed out, addressing women and girls’ mental health has far-reaching advantages. “It’s a strategy that won’t just benefit women and girls, but boys, men and society as a whole, because we know that investment in women has such a high return for families, and a high return for society as a whole,” Niemann said. One reason for this is that women are far more likely than men to be caregivers in their families and communities, a role that benefits society but takes a serious mental and physical toll. According to research cited in the With Her in Mind campaign’s case statement, addressing poor mental and physical health among caregivers could save as much as $221 billion in healthcare costs.

Mindful Philanthropy launched With Her in Mind in March to celebrate International Women’s Day. This May, for Mental Health Month, the organization will introduce a corresponding social media campaign and additional resources to bring more awareness to women and girls’ mental health, and will continue to roll out campaign content and programming throughout the year. Since the initiative was unveiled, a number of foundations have contacted Mindful Philanthropy to learn more, according to Niemann.

“We want to talk to funders, but we’re also just trying to get it out into the public square and into conversations,” Niemann said. “There have been a lot of discussions about women’s empowerment; we’re hoping to integrate mental health into those conversations. And when we officially launch the initiative in May, it will include a challenge to the broader public for how they can support the ‘her’ in their lives — whether it be an educator, or a colleague, or your mother.”

As Mindful Philanthropy organizes to raise awareness, some philanthropies have been stepping up already. Below is a quick lineup of funders that prioritize women and girls’ mental health. It’s a short list that includes almost as many corporate foundations as more traditional philanthropies, and a number of these funders focus on specific regions or populations.

Are there names we’ve missed? If so, we’d like to hear from you. 

Atlanta Women’s Health Foundation (AWF). This regional funder calls itself “the only public foundation in Georgia dedicated solely to women and girls.” Its initiative, Promoting Women & Girls Mental Health & Wellbeing Project, supports organizations providing mental health services to girls and women living in poverty, including teen mothers. “Women impacted by poverty are twice as likely to suffer from mental illness,” its website reads. “Without access to the services needed, these women are unable to accomplish the goals they are trying to achieve to become economically self-sufficient.” AWF has awarded over $1 million to local organizations providing mental and behavioral health services to women and girls since 2015. 

Central Indiana Community Foundation (CICF). CICF oversees a number of funds and foundations, including the Women’s Fund of Central Indiana. The fund provides grants to a range of community organizations that provide services, including mental health support, to women and girls. In 2018, it committed more than $1 million for mental health, including the establishment of a local Give an Hour office in Indianapolis to provide counseling for marginalized women and girls. Give an Hour is a national organization that recruits therapists to provide free mental health services to individuals and communities.

Every Mother Counts (EMC). EMC, which was created by Christy Turlington Burns, a model and entrepreneur, promotes maternal health and safe pregnancy and childbirth in the U.S. and other countries. EMC funds grassroots and community-based maternal health groups that provide support for women before, during and after pregnancy. Mental health is not the organization’s primary focus, but it considers it an important component of maternal wellbeing.

Hope and Grace Initiative. The philanthropic arm of Philosophy USA, a skin care company owned by COTY Inc., the Hope and Grace Initiative provides funding for community-based mental health organizations. Calling mental health issues “one of the greatest challenges women face,” Philosophy USA channels 1% of all sales to the fund, and has donated $5.8 million in support of 97 organizations and 2 million women since 2014. Specific areas of interest for the Hope and Grace Initiative include overcoming barriers, fighting stigma, helping women seek treatment, providing access to quality treatment, and building support networks to help women with mental illness.

Kate Spade New York Foundation. The philanthropic arm of the women’s fashion company, both named after fashion designer Kate Spade, backs women’s empowerment and has made support for mental health a key part of its mission. In 2018, Spade, who suffered from depression and anxiety, committed suicide. After her death, the foundation made a commitment to donate $1 million in grants for mental wellness. Grantees include the Crisis Text Line, Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services, Fountain House and the Jed Foundation. The Kate Spade Foundation recently teamed up with the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation to provide mental health support for Black women on HBCU campuses

Maybelline. In 2020, L’Oreal, which owns the cosmetics company Maybelline, launched the Maybelline Brave Together Initiative to combat depression and anxiety. In partnership with the Crisis Text Line, the Jed Foundation and the National Alliance on Mental Health, the initiative’s goal is to destigmatize anxiety and depression and provide one-on-one support. According to the company’s global brand president, Trisha Ayyagari, “Maybelline has always believed in the power of making things happen in your life, and we know that mental health is critical in feeling ready to do that. We want to use our brand’s global reach to drive this conversation and make support easily accessible.” As part of the Brave Together Initiative, Maybelline released a podcast, I’m Fine, You?, which features interviews with mental health experts and advocates.

Perigee Fund. This Washington-state-based foundation was established in 2018 by psychologist Lisa Mennet, an expert on infant and early childhood mental health. The fund works to foster healthy child development by working with organizations that “support the infant-caregiver relationship and increase the capacity for all families to experience healthy, joyful connections,” according to its website. As part of that focus, the Perigee Fund advocates for maternal mental health. Last year, it issued a report titled “Maternal Mental Health: An Urgent Priority,” which offers suggestions from a range of experts for boosting maternal mental health and equity. 

Women’s Fund of Santa Barbara. This collective donor organization raises money from its members to address “the critical needs of women, children and families in south Santa Barbara County,” according to its website. It supports a range of causes, including mental health. Last year, the fund awarded a $100,000 grant to Girls Inc. of Carpinteria, a mentorship and advocacy organization, for a mental health program. The grant will pay for a therapist to provide weekly therapy sessions for 200 girls aged four to 18, and workshops for parents.