A Reason for Hope: Big Recent Gifts for Mental Health

photo:  VGstockstudio/shutterstock

photo:  VGstockstudio/shutterstock

Mental health doesn't tend to attract the kind of big philanthropic gifts that often flow for medical research and hospitals. While some donors shy away from an area that's still surrounded by quite a bit of stigma, others are simply more excited by large brick-and-mortar projects or the quest for research breakthroughs against diseases like cancer. 

So whenever we do see large gifts going for mental health, we stop and take note. Lately, we've seen a few notable examples of this relatively rare kind of mega donation. 

Last week, Canada’s largest mental health hospital netted a $100 million gift from an anonymous donor to fund psychiatric research. The money will fund a new Discovery Fund that will "provide support to the next generation of researchers and scientists to pursue the research that will directly transform care," in the words of the donor. 

Meanwhile, last month, two families in the Cincinnati, Ohio area also made a major commitment for mental health—one that merits a closer look to understand some of the dynamics of giving in this space. 

The Fath and Lindner names are unlikely to be familiar to those who live outside of the Cincinnati region. Harry Fath is a local businessperson and entrepreneur. The Faths have been major contributors to the local community organizations and in 2012, Harry Fath received the Humanitarian of the Year award with Lighthouse Youth Services. Craig Lindner is also a local businessperson who serves as the co-CEO and co-president of the American Financial Group. Both he and his wife have lost family and friends who suffered from severe mental illness. This led the couple to establish the Linder Center of HOPE in 2008—which recently received one of the largest donations in its history and what is believed to be two of the country’s largest individual pledges ever made for mental and behavioral health programs.

Personal experience is almost always a factor in large mental health gifts, as we've explored before. Most famously, Ted Stanley—whose son had struggled with mental illness—gave over $800 million to the Broad Institute for research in this area. 

The Fath and Lindner families made a joint $75 million commitment—to be given over their lifetimes—to the Lindner Center of HOPE. The Fath’s pledged a $50 million challenge gift which is to be given over their lifetimes, and the Lindner’s donated $25 million to the center’s endowment fund. The donations will support the further research, development, and expansion of treatment programs for mental disorders such as depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, substance abuse, and eating disorders. A portion of the funding is also being set aside to provide financial assistance to patients. This includes tackling the challenge of federal and private insurance reimbursement levels, which are often roadblocks when it comes to patients accessing the care they need. Funds are also earmarked for public outreach programs to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness.  

The Fath and Lindner donations come at a time during which the Hamilton County region has “struggled with an outbreak of youth suicide.” But this isn’t just a Hamilton County concern, suicide is the third leading cause of death for those ages 10 to 24, with underlying mental illness contributing to 90 percent of those deaths.

In the United States, around 1 in 5 adults—about 44 million people—18 and older suffer from mental illness. Not only is depression the most common mental disorder in the world, it is also the leading cause of disability worldwide. Last year, the World Health Organization warned that the global burden of mental illness and mental disorders is increasing and have “significant impacts on health and major social, human rights, and economic consequences in all countries in the world.”

But despite how widespread this problem is in the United States and elsewhere, funding is never adequate and proposed budget cuts in the U.S. could make the situation worse. The Trump administration’s 2018 budget is proposing some significant cuts to mental health funding. Among them, slashing $400 million from mental health and substance abuse programs and cutting $5.8 billion from the National Institutes of Health. (Congress is unlikely to go along with these proposals.) 

But whoever is in office in Washington, it's likely that pressures on public spending for medical research and health services. Which is why funders like Linda and Harry Fath and Frances and S. Craig Lindner are so important.