Can Nonprofit Workers Fill the Gaps in Mental Health Access?

An estimated 340,000 adults in New York experience mental health issues each month, and the rates of incidence jump dramatically for low-income and uninsured adults. Even more troubling, nearly a quarter of New Yorkers with these issues aren’t getting treatment when they need it.  

The good news is that not all the burden lies with overworked mental health care professionals. Research shows that many types of interventions and assistance, such as substance use screenings and motivational interviewing, can be provided by nonprofit workers who get some relevant training.

With these facts and figures in mind, the mental industry just got a huge boost in New York City, thanks to a new $30 million public-private partnership program. It’s spearheaded by the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, a nonprofit that supports mental health, youth workforce development, immigration and citizenship, domestic violence, financial empowerment, and support for young men and women of color.

However, there are a lot of moving parts within this program and a few philanthropic foundations that have emerged as industry leaders. One of these is the Chapman Perelman Foundation, and another early funding partner is the Benificus Foundation.

The Chapman Perelman Foundation is led by Billionaire Revlon CEO Ronald Perelman’s psychologist wife (his fifth), Anna Chapman. Although public details about this funder are limited, we know that it is a New York-based foundation that gives to health, human services, and education causes.  However, mental health seems to be the number one priority. The foundation made headlines last October for donating $1 million to Columbia University Medical Center to provide mental health services to domestic violence victims.  

Meanwhile, Ronald’s family foundation focuses the bulk of grantmaking on traditional health causes, like cancer research programs and local medical centers, as well as the arts.

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The Chapman Perelman Foundation’s Dr. Anna Chapman commented in a press release, “This important initiative gives us a unique opportunity to leverage our support of quality mental health care for all New Yorkers through the development and implementation of innovative mental health policy.”

The Benificus Foundation is actually based in San Carlos, California and used to be known as the Vallejo Ventures Private Foundation. Venture capitalist L. John Doerr founded it in 1997, and he and his wife signed The Giving Pledge as well. Most Benificus grants have gone to education, especially higher education, so this support New York-focused mental health came as a bit of surprise.

Related: IP’s Profile of John Doerr

The program is called Connections to Care, and it was initially made possible by a $6 million grant from theSocial Innovation Fund, a White House initiative of the Corporation for National and Community Service. And the targets are programs that are already serving low-income communities in New York. One of the main goals is to help New Yorkers find mental health treatment in their local communities, rather than having to travel elsewhere and outside their comfort zone in the city.

“Over and over, people told me how tough it was to travel outside of their communities and how much they would prefer to receive services from those who understand their culture,” said First Lady Chirlane McCray. “Trust and familiarity matter a great deal with a sensitive, complicated issue like mental health. With this grant, we can bring mental health services to New Yorkers in places where they already feel comfortable.”

With Bill De Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, heavily pushing mental health as a major issue in New York City, we wouldn’t be surprised to see even more local funders start gathering around the cause. De Blasio’s administration has already contributed over $100 million to the city’s budget for mental health, which is a personal issue that the mayoral couple’s daughter has struggled with and publicly addressed.

The Mayor’s Fund, the Center for Economic Opportunity, and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene are expected to release a request for proposals in September. We expect to see about a dozen nonprofit grantees chosen to toe the line between public and private services and connect with mental health providers. The hope is that these nonprofits will then be able to train their employees to become makeshift mental health experts and fill in the gaps in New York's poorest neighborhoods.