Philanthropy is a Critical Tool in Addressing the Youth Mental Health Crisis

Today, our nation’s young people are facing unprecedented challenges that are having a devastating impact on their mental health. Yet, with 1 in 3 young adults between the ages of 18 and 25, and 1 in 4 teenagers, experiencing a mental health disorder each year, the current U.S. mental health care system is woefully inadequate to support them. Over 60% of youth with major depression don’t receive treatment due to a number of factors: affordability and access to health insurance (or providers who accept it), lack of culturally competent care, and an overall shortage of therapists available to meet the growing demand. 

America’s young people can’t afford to wait for major, systemic change to go into effect before they find the care and support that they require—and deserve—right now. The Jed Foundation (JED) has seen firsthand how philanthropists can impact the speed and effectiveness with which we’re able to address and work around these issues in order to protect emotional wellness and prevent suicide for our nation’s youth. Philanthropic giving enables paths to supporting, reaching, and ensuring care for young people when, and where, they need it most.

When philanthropists support comprehensive mental health approaches in the places where young people spend much of their time—schools, youth organizations, and communities—they are in fact helping to establish long-lasting, comprehensive cultures of caring in which youth are supported, noticed, given opportunities to develop life skills, and can be connected to mental health care when they are struggling. JED has seen that creating such systems is not only essential, but effective, in helping to prevent suicide for teens and young adults. These mental health safety nets are especially important in under-resourced communities where access to equitable, quality health care is limited.

Consider that:

  • Almost 4 in 10 Americans (149 million people) live in areas with a shortage of mental health professionals.
  • 31 million Americans don’t have health insurance, and many with insurance often can’t get help because behavioral care specialists are often out-of-network or don’t accept insurance.
  • Finding a mental health provider with relatable cultural context is an additional challenge, because almost 85% of the nation’s psychologists are white.

Philanthropy is needed both for short- and longer-term strategies to strengthen our mental health care systems. But before giving to a nonprofit, it’s important for philanthropists to do their homework. 

This includes:

  • Ensuring the initiatives they support align with the urgency of our public mental health goals
  • Having a plan with measurable goals and a reasonable chance of success
  • Featuring collaboration that fosters communication, coordination, and synergy 
  • Providing incentives that help align all stakeholders around the shared goal of improving equitable access to care

One way that philanthropists can maximize the impact of their contributions is by supporting organizations whose efforts are multiplied through a coalition or similar collaborative approach. When organizations formally bring together their knowledge, talent, and resources, they are able to achieve shared objectives more rapidly. JED has seen great results with this approach: Last year, we joined the Path Forward for Mental Health and Substance Use, a multi-stakeholder group that aims to implement a national initiative to improve the delivery of affordable and effective behavioral health care. Through this collaborative effort, contributions become exponential in impact, helping to more quickly close gaps in access, quality, and affordability of care for mental health and substance use disorders among teens and young adults. Collaboration also breaks down the silos that cause duplication of effort. Therefore, your support can go further when working with well-networked and team-minded foundations.

According to the Center for High Impact Philanthropy, “Philanthropic support can fund nonprofit programs that provide direct services to those in need; increase the capacity of systems so that programs can function more effectively and efficiently; fund research that underpins these programs; and support policy initiatives that are needed to sustain them. It can also back innovation with the potential for game-changing progress.”

Mackenzie Scott is a high-impact philanthropist, not only because she’s able to donate sizable gifts, but because of the way her gifts are implemented—setting an example for generous donors at every level. Because Scott’s gifts are unrestricted, for example, they can be consistently applied toward the areas of greatest need and highest impact, according to the organization’s evolving insights. Thanks to an unrestricted gift from Scott, JED will be able to fund programs to help young people through the current crisis—while equipping our team, policymakers, educators, parents/caregivers, partners, and more, for the crucial next steps.

In addition to providing much-needed resources, philanthropic gifts and grants draw attention to important causes. If they are made public, these acts encourage others to learn about, advocate for, and financially support organizations that are advancing meaningful change. Often, this substantially amplifies the impact of the gift itself, creating a catalytic effect.

With the growing urgency around youth mental health, it’s increasingly important for philanthropists to provide direct support. While organizations like JED are working tirelessly to improve the health care system in the United States, gifts from individual donors and corporations allow for more immediate action and efficacy. Donations help drive immediate and lasting impacts on behalf of America’s youth.

Get Help Now

If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, text, call, or chat 988 for a free confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7. 

You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.

If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.