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October 12, 2004
Are Foundations Overlooking Mental Health?
The role of organized philanthropy in mental health in the United States can be traced to the early 1900s when the Rockefeller Foundation and the Milbank Memorial Fund helped establish the National Committee for Mental Hygiene in 1909. Several decades later in 1942, the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation used extensive connections in Congress to inspire the legislation that authorized establishment of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
According to a study published in Health Affairs last year, foundation funding for mental health grew in the 1990s, but the rate of growth was far below that for total foundation giving or giving for health. Grants for mental health and substance abuse increased from $108 million in 1991 to $218 million in 2000. During this period the leading funders in mental health included: The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, who from 19962000 gave $41.3 million in mental health grants; Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), Annie E. Casey Foundation, Theodore and Vada Stanley Foundation, and Robert R. McCormick Tribune Foundation.
The leading recipients of mental health grants included research institutions such as UCLA, Baylor College of Medicine, and the Kennedy Krieger Institute (affiliated with the Johns Hopkins University). Other leading recipients were organizations that both fund research and advocate for increased research funding for different types of brain disorders and mental illnesses (such as the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression, the Alzheimers Disease and Related Disorders Association, and the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill Research Institute).
While the 2003 Health Affairs article was asking an important question, I don't think their analysis was complete or up-to-date. The following is a short list of recent donations made by foundations to accelerate brain research: $25m for UCLA's Neuropsychiatric Institute along with $5m for Schizophrenia research; $350m for MIT's McGovern Institute for Brain Research; $100m for Paul Allen's Brain Atlas.
These amounts begin to show that foundations are, in fact, pouring money into mental health. Even so, the amount of money is still a drop in the bucket when compared to the size of the growing global mental health epidemic.
For the past three years I have been working full time on a project that will dramatically accelerate the flow of capital towards the research and development of better tools for mental health. Please email me if you are interested in learning how you can play a role in this very important venture.
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