Mental health is health…and we cannot afford not to fund it

A blog by Natasha Müller – Founder and CEO at NM Impact Ltd. This blog was originally posted on Natasha Muller’s LinkedIn blog space, which you can see here.


Over the last decade, I have been an active philanthropist and investor in global mental health. It is an extraordinary sector – one that affects all of us, not least because our mental health is so integral to our physical health and our ability to support ourselves, our families and our communities. I am passionate about it, having had my own struggles with mental health. But my story is far from unique – even before the pandemic hit, almost 1 billion people were living with some form of mental disorder (Source: WHO).

Yet funding for global mental health remains critically short – less than 1% of development assistance for health and less than 1% of philanthropic health funding is spent on this pressing issue.

As a philanthropist working in mental health, the scale of the need can feel overwhelming. Just so much to do and simply nowhere near the resource needed to do it. Which is why last year I started to reach out to other mental health funders to create a network of support for each other.

The questions we often ask each other are fundamental:

  • When the scale of mental health need is so severe, why is spending on mental health so consistently low?
  • Given that mental health funding is so limited, what can we do to ensure maximum impact of the funding that does exist?

These are questions that we have now decided to tackle, working in partnership with United for Global Mental Health and Arabella Advisors. Our latest briefing, Unlocking the power of philanthropy: How next-generation philanthropists can transform mental health funding, provides a snapshot of the current situation and challenges around philanthropic mental health funding. We lay out a series of recommendations on how next-generation philanthropists can overcome these barriers and make their funding more catalytic and impactful than ever.

To mark the launch of our briefing, I was delighted to be joined by Kate Roberts (Maverick Collective), Raj Mariwala (Mariwala Health Initiative), Alan Court (Senior Advisor, WHO Ambassador Global Strategy and Health Financing), Jon Myer (Associate Director of Orygen Digital, member of The Myer Foundation) and Taha Sabri (Taskeen) to discuss the stigma around mental health funding, the cost on the pandemic and what mental health has to learn from other movements.

Our initial recommendations include:

  • Encouraging philanthropists to revisit mental health. Just as we can nearly all find ways to do our bit for the planet, so there is a mental health angle to so much of what we already do – we just need to find the hook that is relevant for us. Advice on how to do this is growing – for example, this recent report from Lombard Odier. Metrics and data are also improving, led by the work of Countdown Global Mental Health 2030 and the International Alliance of Mental Health Researchers.
  • Helping funders continue to learn more about global mental health and the needs of the sector to identify where value can be added. The WHO’s Mental Health Atlas is a powerful tool that provides national level data, and should be utilised as a starting point.
  • Prioritising investment in areas in which philanthropy is uniquely positioned to fund. Philanthropists are more able to take risks than other funders, and in doing so, can catalyse public and private follow on funding.
  • Integrating philanthropic financing into larger financing packages. This can help to catalyse new, larger and coordinated investments for mental health.
  • And finally, facing the challenges of philanthropic funding presented head on to augment impact. There are complex questions to ask around transparency, trust and how we design interventions that engage persons with lived experience and put community needs first.

This initial brief will be followed by a more in-depth paper in the Summer, including interviews with next-generation philanthropists and case studies that make it easier to see how to take action and to get started in mental health. Do contact us if you’d like to receive this longer report.

However, our main message is already clear. The devastating global pandemic has had a huge impact on us all. The philanthropic community, and next-generation philanthropists in particular, have the opportunity to grab this moment and move the dial forward on mental health.

As Jon Myer so powerfully said at our launch event, “Money for the mind is money you cannot afford not to find.”

The time to act is now. 

Download Unlocking the Power of Philanthropy: How Next Generation Philanthropists can Transform Mental Health Funding

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