Supporting Mental Health in Philanthropy

Caring for Our Mental Health

Society’s collective reckoning with trauma in the past couple of years has shed stark light on the urgency of caring for our mental health. Too often, however, stigmatizing attitudes and rigid workplace cultures create pressure to suppress this need. Philanthropy, like many sectors, is long overdue for a sea change in how we think and talk about mental health. Caring for our minds is a basic, vital human need.

Mental Health in the Workplace

A 2021 report on workplace mental health found that “seventy-six percent of respondents reported at least one symptom of a mental health condition in the past year, up from 59% in 2019.” Going forward, to foster workplaces that truly prioritize mental health, we must apply a disability lens. First, it’s important to note that many mental health conditions (also referred to as mental health disabilities, psychiatric disabilities, or mental illnesses) are recognized as protected disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This means people with mental health disabilities have the right to full and equal workplace participation with the reasonable accommodations they need to succeed.

Connections Between Mental Health and Marginalization

It’s also crucial to understand that mental health does not exist in a vacuum, and that each person’s experience is deeply connected to their identities. Lack of access to care and resources can take a toll on mental health and greatly exacerbate risk. Multi-marginalized people experience the effects of this at disproportionately high rates, which are further compounded by the mental health consequences of racial- and gender-based injustice along with the devastating effects of COVID-19. But according to the Center for American Progress, “for many Americans, mental health care has been unaffordable and inaccessible well before the coronavirus pandemic.”

Approaches to Understanding Mental Health

There are multiple approaches to understanding and supporting mental health and well-being. While it is often addressed through a medical/diagnostic lens, we encourage you to explore the following concepts that take a more holistic view:

  • Transformative Mental Health: “Understands human suffering, mental difference, and the full range of emotion, as a catalyst for generative change, rather than a pathology. Transformative Mental Health is an evolving process, not a destination.”
  • Healing Justice: “A framework rooted in racial justice, disability justice, and economic justice…[that] provides us with tools we can use to interrupt the systems of oppression that impact our mental health.”

Just as philanthropy must shift toward practices that hold space for mental health for employees, so too must the sector center mental health in grantmaking. Directing resources to support mental wellbeing is key to moving toward greater equity, inclusion, and ultimately, justice.

Resources on Mental Health

The following curated list of resources offer helpful starting points and examples to guide you in the process of incorporating a mental health focus within both your internal operations and grantmaking practices.

Starting Points

Insights on Mental Health in the Workplace

Guidance for Supporting Employee Mental Health

Philanthropic Support for Mental Health

Philanthropic Responses to COVID-19’s Impact on Mental Health