Funding for Mental Healthcare? A Tough Ask, Across the Globe

Julianne Day

A Sobering Statistic

As Advancement & Communications Coordinator for the Fountain Hill Center, my work includes quite a lot of reading. News articles, journal articles, research findings… And while reading up about the current state of funding for mental healthcare, I recently learned a very sobering statistic:

Globally, for every year of healthy life lost due to HIV/AIDS, health donors provided $144 in assistance. For tuberculosis and malaria, donors provided $48. But for mental illness, donors only provided 85 cents.

At first, I couldn’t believe it. Such underinvestment is simply staggering. It means that less than 1% of every dollar donated to support healthcare initiatives around the globe goes towards funding for mental healthcare, even though mental illness affects about 1 in 6 people.

How can we expect to solve a problem that impacts about 17% of the world’s people with less than 1% of our resources? To achieve adequate funding for mental healthcare initiatives, we’d not only have to double our current investment—we’d have to double it again. And again. And then again. Wow!

Funding-for-Mental-Healthcare - The Need is Great

The Reasons for Underinvestment

After mulling things over for a few days, I came to believe that even though the 85 cents statistic doesn’t make sense—it’s probably accurate. Because I see it in my work every day. Many people who wouldn’t think twice about seeking treatment for bronchitis or a broken leg shy away from seeking treatment for a mental health issue.

And achieving adequate funding for mental healthcare probably remains a tough ask for many of the same reasons:

  • People underestimate the impact of mental health issues.
  • Because mental health issues can’t be seen, we think they don’t exist.
  • Treatment is seen as optional.
  • Treatment is seen as expensive.
  • Treatment is seen as ineffective.
  • Mental health issues carry a stigma; many people around the world continue to believe that people in need of mental healthcare either have poor character or have made bad life choices—i.e., they aren’t worth helping.

Setting the Record Straight

As Advancement & Communications Coordinator for FHC, I know that none of the above reasons really holds up. But I can forgive other people for thinking otherwise. Most people don’t work for a counseling center. Most people don’t see, on a daily basis, the positive impact that treatment can have. Mental health advocates, providers, and agencies haven’t done a good job of setting the record straight.

However, the truth is:

  • Mental health issues are real, widespread, and often debilitating—sometimes even lethal.
  • Though people experiencing mental health issues look just like everybody else, their brains function differently.
  • Most mental health issues won’t resolve on their own.
  • Inexpensive treatments exist for most of these issues, and dollar for dollar, it’s cheaper to treat.
  • Research continues to demonstrate that a variety of therapies—from mindfulness training to EMDR to body-based approaches like yoga—actually WORK.
  • Mental health issues are just that: health issues. They are NOT an indication that someone isn’t worth helping.

Funding-for-Mental-Healthcare - Interior, Counseling Office

Seeing Is Believing When it Comes to Mental Healthcare

How do I know that the above are really true? Because I experience those realities on a daily basis. I know how many calls and emails FHC gets every day from people looking to set up a first appointment. I see that the people walking through our doors look just like everybody else—that they can be any age, any color, any religion, any socio-economic status. I see that, just like malaria or tuberculosis, mental illness doesn’t care whether you’re a good person. Many of our clients are wonderful, kind and caring, smart and driven people who have done remarkable things. But that hasn’t shielded them from developing anxiety or depression, or from experiencing trauma or grief.

Above all, I see that counseling works. I observe how clients that at first come in for two-hour appointments cut down to one hour after a while, and clients that at first come in every week start coming in every other week…and then every month…and then eventually don’t come in anymore.

I notice that clients who come to receive treatment for anger issues gradually grow calmer. Clients who come for help with depression gradually become more alive and present. Couples who come to address relationship issues develop better communication skills and grow more at ease with each other—sometimes even exchanging hugs and kisses after appointments! Although this won’t necessarily be every client’s experience—since there’s no way to predict how each person will respond to the insights gained and challenges encountered in counseling—I see evidence every day that counseling works.

Making an Impact

This is the work that’s involved with treating mental, emotional, and relational issues, and this is the work that we’re globally underinvesting in. It leaves me wondering how different the world might be if we provided funding for mental healthcare the same way we do HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. Whose lives might be changed? What would the ripple effects be? How might our communities be impacted?

Though FHC certainly doesn’t have a global reach, we strive to make as positive an impact as we can with the resources we have. About 20% of our pro bono counseling services in 2018 were covered by donations and grants. And we’d like to get this number higher so we can provide even more low- and no-cost counseling options to a greater number of clients.

Funding-for-Mental-Healthcare - Double-and-Double-Again

We’ve been lucky in connecting with several people and partners who value funding for mental healthcare and who understand the impact we’re making in our community. Last year we ended up bringing in 22% more in donations and grants than we did the year before!

But we still have a long ways to go: 20% coverage for pro bono services isn’t close to 100%. What’s true across the globe is true for us locally, as well. To achieve a level of funding commensurate to the services we’re providing, we’d have to bring in double the donations and grants we currently receive. And then double again. And then add some more on top of that. Wow!


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