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Funders and mental health: Progress made, progress still needed

Today marks World Mental Health Day.

In the year that has passed since the last one, it became harder than ever not to notice the growing mental health crisis. You’ll have heard about rising demand, low staffing levels, horrifying incidents of poor care and inadequate funding levels at the front line.

In the past few weeks alone, it’s been revealed that one in four young people referred to access specialist support are refused care; that 24% of girls become clinically depressed by the age of 14; and that commissioners could be planning to reduce mental health budgets despite government pledges.

All of this makes it more important than ever that charities can campaign to push for improvements, and can be on hand to run or complement key public services that keep the show on the road. Charities are often able to take an approach that the state or private companies are unable to, which can make a massive difference.

Independent funding provides the resources that charities need to carry out this role. And in this past year we’ve seen examples of funders becoming much more involved with this cause.

The Royal Foundation led the Heads Together awareness raising campaign, taking centre stage at the 2017 London Marathon. Major funding from the LankellyChase Foundation was allocated to create a knowledge hub focusing on the mental health issues of ethnic minorities. Lloyds Banking Group staff voted for a £2m corporate partnership with Mental Health UK that will be used to create a new service.

This is all very encouraging with much to be celebrated—but the fact remains that charities providing mental health services are overwhelmingly reliant on statutory contracts. Following years of cuts, many are seriously struggling.

It is also true that funders with the vision and dedication to support this cause are few and far between, and funding is heavily fragmented. Research highlights that only 2% of grant-makers support mental health organisations and funders with specific mental health portfolios are rare.

Private funders have many calls made upon their limited funds and this source is not a sustainable answer to the crisis alone. But in mental health there are several ways that funders could make an impact:

  • Funders can help more charities invest in underfunded innovations—such as early-intervention, peer support, and new technologies that the state can’t fund.
  • Funders have the foresight to ensure that grants focus on the people that are most in need, and not just ‘the low-hanging fruit’—which statutory payment by results contracts can sometimes encourage.
  • Funders can provide core or unrestricted funding, which can help charities become more effective and plan for the future.

For example, the Stone Family Foundation’s mental health portfolio, which I advise, has supported Birmingham Mind to develop new income streams, and Mosaic Clubhouse to invest in impact measurement. These are both important steps in helping charities become more effective.

Over the next year, I hope that more charities can further benefit from the generosity and expertise of philanthropists, grant-making trusts and corporates—with people benefiting as a result. The state cannot be left to take the lead on this issue, and both charities and their funders are well placed to make considerable change.

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