A $650M Fist in the Eye of Cuts to Mental Health Funding

It was a moment of “Wait, what?!” for many of us at IP. When we heard about Ted Stanley’s $650 million pledge to support the Broad Institute, we were surprised. And confused. Could that be a typo? It wasn’t outside the realm of possibility after all: you just don’t see gifts in the hundreds of millions all that often, much less gifts from fairly quiet, unassuming guys like Ted Stanley.

But it wasn’t a typo, just incredible generosity. As the 82-year-old Stanley’s clock ticks down, the Giving Pledge signatory and founder of the Stanley Medical Research Institute wanted to put the bulk of his wealth out into the world, to count for good. And he chose to put his vote of confidence behind the Broad Institute and the future of genomic medicine

This is the guy who said, “What could be more useless than accumulating huge piles of money you will never spend?” So on some level it makes sense that he would want to make a bang. Scale talks, after all, and certainly Stanley is aware of what an impression a gift this size will make in the often drowsy mental health grantspace.

We've already written one article on this gift, but we can't help but linger longer on what it means.

The past few years have wrought a terrible squeeze on mental health services throughout the country. Between 2009 and 2011, budget cuts slashed $1.8 billion out of state non-medicaid mental health spending—cuts that states are still recovering from. Meanwhile, the NIH has been hit by budget cuts of its own, plus sequestration. Its already pretty low proposal success rate (17.6 percent in 2012) sank to an even less promising rate of 16.8 percent in 2013.

Enormous though it is, this private gift can’t replace federal funding, and the plain truth is that it doesn’t want to. Stanley and private givers like him don’t want to be constrained by the same risk-averse principles that govern federal agencies. They want bold promise.

This gift is about the promise of genomic medicine applied to mental health challenges, where it’s never been applied before and could yield remarkable new progress.